GUARDING ONENESS

How to Deal with the Killer of Unity in Any Relationship

My mentor and friend surprised me the other day. I asked if he could recommend a go-to resource on marriage. I figured he would point to any number of more recent publications by major evangelical authors. Not so.

humility word in metal type

He suggested Larry Crabb’s 1991 publication Men & Women: Enjoying the Difference (Zondervan). It just so happens I have a copy in my library. I read it years ago. Never hurts to take another look, so I pulled it off the shelf and began reading again.

It took only twenty-eight pages before these words hammered me:

We will not move very far in our efforts to develop good marriages until we understand that repairing a damaged sense of identity and healing the wound in our hearts is not the first order of business. It is rather dealing with the subtle, pervasive, stubborn commitment to ourselves. Self-centeredness is the killer. In every bad relationship, it is the deadliest culprit . Poor communication, temper problems, unhealthy responses to dysfunctional family backgrounds, co-dependent relationships, and personal incompatibility—everything (unless medically caused) flows out of the cesspool of self-centeredness.

If Crabb overstates the case at all, then I am not sure how much. It seems he lines up perfectly with Paul’s instructions in Phil. 2:1-4.

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

He gives two directives for guarding oneness. The first addresses attitude–humility of mind which counts others more significant than oneself (see also Rom. 12:16; the second focuses on action–look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The Greek word for “look” is the word skopeo from where we get our English word “scope”–as in a rifle scope. We are to keep our eyes wide open for the concerns of others. He assumes we will do that for ourselves. Guardians of oneness in marriage, family, church or any relational sphere scan the horizon of needs on a broader scale for the benefit of others.

Philippians 2 finishes with four examples of his day from which to draw inspiration: Jesus (5-11), himself (12-18, Timothy (19-24), and Epaphroditus (25-30). Of course none of those matters more to our motivation to guard oneness than that of the Lord Jesus in His humiliation and exaltation.

Why? Because He not only gives us an example to follow; He supplies the power to live similarly through the transforming gospel.

As you move into 2017, where might you have to drain the cesspool of self-centeredness for the joy of growing in others-centeredness?

Why Does God Delay to Answer Prayer?

Why does God delay to answer prayer?

Consider these thoughts by the Puritan Thomas Watson in his book The Body of Divinity.

  1. Because he loves to hear the voice of prayer. ‘The prayer of the upright is his delight.’ Prov 15: 8. You let the musician play a great while ere you throw him down money, because you love to hear his music. Cant 2: 14.
  2. God may delay prayer when he will not deny it, that he may humble us. He has spoken to us long in his word to leave our sins, but we would not hear him; therefore he lets us speak to him in prayer and seems not to hear us.
  3. He may delay to answer prayer when he will not deny it, because he sees we are not yet fit for the mercy we ask. Perhaps we pray for deliverance when we are not fit for it; our scum is not yet boiled away. We would have God swift to deliver, and we are slow to repent.
  4. God may delay to answer prayer, that the mercy we pray for may be more prized, and may be sweeter when it comes. The longer the merchant’s ships stay abroad, the more he rejoices when they come home laden with spices and jewels; therefore be not discouraged, but follow God with prayer. Though God delays, he will not deny. Prayer vincit invincibilem [conquers the invincible], it overcomes the Omnipotent. Hos 12: 4. The Syrians tied their god Hercules fast with a golden chain, that he should not remove. The Lord was held by Moses’ prayer as with a golden chain. ‘Let me alone;’ why, what did Moses? he only prayed. Exod 32:10- 11. Prayer ushers in mercy. Be thy case never so sad, if thou canst but pray thou needest not fear. Psa 10: 17. Therefore give thyself to prayer.

Dear ones. Don’t give up. Persevere in prayer.

WTLN Interview with Pastor Curt

For one of their recent Church-of-the-Week programs, WTLN, 950 AM, Orlando, chose to feature, as they have done in the past, Orlando Grace. They aired a message from The Graces of Gospel-Shaped Community series called The Grace of Clothing with Humility from 1 Peter 4:19-5:7. You can listen to the audio of that message here.

Before broadcasting the message, they played a recording of an interview with me about my ministry and the ministry of our church. If you missed that program the afternoon of October 30, you can listen to the interview audio here.

My thanks to Bill Rhoden of the radio station for his kindness in making the copy available to us at OGC.

The Grace of Clothing with Humility

Today’s message from 1 Peter 4:19-5:7 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

John Calvin said this of the proverbial expression, God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble:

We are to imagine that; God has two hands; the one, which like a hammer beats down and breaks in pieces those who raise up themselves; and the other, which raises up the humble who willingly let down themselves, and is like a firm prop to sustain them. Were we really convinced of this, and had it deeply fixed in our minds, who of us would dare by pride to urge war with God? But the hope of impunity now makes us fearlessly to raise up our horn to heaven. Let, then, this declaration of Peter be as a celestial thunderbolt to make men humble.

May God strike us with humility’s celestial thunderbolt! Then we will have sheep who submit to their shepherds. Then we will have people given wholeheartedly to lowly-mindedness toward one another.

What could be lovelier before our eyes and more glorifying to our God than a report like: Oh yes, I know OGC, a more lowly-minded, humble community you will rarely find!?

The Better Life

We often hear about the pursuit of the good life. Our culture promotes a variety of definitions that can shape our pursuits. Much of them have to do with the acquisition of wealth and the possessions, experiences, and status it can bring.

But God doesn’t do economics the way the world does. In fact quite often our up is His down and what we esteem He despises (see Luke 16:15).

The ofttimes contrast between what human wisdom esteems as the good life and what God esteems surfaces plainly in the book of Proverbs. For example, consider Proverbs 16:19.

It is better to be of a lowly spirit with the poor than to divide the spoil with the proud.

That’s not your conventional wisdom. In God’s economy poverty plus humility counts for way more than plunder plus pride.

Why is this so? First, because humility draws the gaze of God (Isaiah 66:1-2). Second, God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (1 Peter 5:5). The last thing I want is for the God of the universe to regard me as His opponent; the first thing I want is for Him to look favorably upon me.

Matthew Henry made this comment on the verse:

It is upon all accounts better to take our lot with those whose condition is low, and their minds brought to it, than to covet and aim to make a figure and a bustle in the world. Humility, though it should expose us to contempt in the world, yet while it recommends us to the favour of God, qualifies us for his gracious visits, prepares us for his glory, secures us from many temptations, and preserves the quiet and repose of our own souls, is much better than that high-spiritedness which, though it carry away the honour and wealth of the world, makes God a man’s enemy and the devil his master.

Do you aspire for the good life, the better life? Take your cue from the wisdom of Proverbs and draw the gaze of God in favor, far better than any spoils this world has to offer divided with the proud.

Faith’s Ultimate Display (Part Two)

Today’s message from John 12:1-11 is now on the web. You can listen to the audio here.

Here’s how I closed the sermon:

So, do we get it? Compared to Mary we have so much more to go on this side of the cross! If we do get it, if we understand the truth of what Jesus has done and it grips us such that we believe in Him as the Messiah, our Savior, it will lead to commitment marked like hers with even extravagant devotion – intensely personal, financially sacrificial, extremely deferential, publically unconventional, and spiritually insightful attachment.

Oswald Chambers, in My Utmost for His Highest, said this:

There is only one relationship that matters, and that is your personal relationship to a personal Redeemer and Lord. Let everything else go, but maintain that at all costs, and God will fulfill His purpose through your life. One individual life may be of priceless value to God’s purpose, and yours may be that life.

Let everything else go, but maintain your personal relationship to Jesus at all costs.

What God Truly Requires of His Covenant People

Today’s message is now online. You can listen to the audio here.

Matthew Henry writes this about what God requires of His covenant people in Micah 6:8:

The good which God requires of us is not the paying of a price for the pardon of sin and acceptance with God, but doing the duty which is the condition of our interest in the pardon purchased. (1.) We must do justly, must render to all their due, according as our relation and obligation to them are; we must do wrong to none, but do right to all, in their bodies, goods, and good name. (2.) We must love mercy; we must delight in it, as our God does, must be glad of an opportunity to do good, and do it cheerfully. Justice is put before mercy, for we must not give that in alms which is wrongfully got, or with which our debts should be paid. God hates robbery for a burnt-offering. (3.) We must walk humbly with our God. This includes all the duties of the first table, as the two former include all the duties of the second table. We must take the Lord for our God in covenant, must attend on him and adhere to him as ours, and must make it our constant care and business to please him. Enoch’s walking with God is interpreted (Heb. 11:5) his pleasing God. We must, in the whole course of our conversation, conform ourselves to the will of God, keep up our communion with God, and study to approve ourselves to him in our integrity; and this we must do humbly (submitting our understandings to the truths of God and our will to his precepts and providences); we must humble ourselves to walk with God (so the margin reads it); every thought within us must be brought down, to be brought into obedience to God, if we would walk comfortably with him. This is that which God requires, and without which the most costly services are vain oblations; this is more than all burnt-offerings and sacrifices.

May we heed Evan’s exhortation to live each day with eyes to see the opportunities He puts before us to live well with both bottom-line trajectories, horizontal and vertical, in mind.

On Being Known & Prayer

Recently I listened to a challenging message by Francis Chan from the Desiring God National Conference called Think Hard; Stay Humble.

He taught from 1 Cor. 8:1-3 which closes with this mind-blowing notion: If anyone loves God, he is known by God.

That led to a cross reference to Gal. 4:9 – But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? Chan observed how it seems like Paul caught himself up short early on in this verse. In talking about the Galatians intimate relationship with God, the apostle started to characterize it in terms of their knowing God but then shifted his field to the significance of God knowing them.

What difference does looking at things this way make?

For one thing it affects motivation for prayer. We can ask God for things, all kinds of things, with confidence that He will answer (though not always as we might wish) because we are known by Him. We have a personal intimate relationship with Him. We call Him, Father (Matt. 6:9). He delights to give good gifts to His children (Luke 11:13).

Pastor Chan gives some amazing illustrations of this reality from his own life. I have experienced some of my own lately.

First, my brother-in-law, who has been effectively out of work for nearly two years, got a job this past week! I have asked the church to pray for this for months now. We enjoyed a sweet celebration dinner last Tuesday night with my folks at the table as well.

Second, two doors have opened for gospel bridge-building in our neighborhood. I’ve had the church praying for this request in the enews for months as well. The answer on this front overlapped with the answer on the first. Nancy and I asked to speak with a few of our neighbors about our situation with another family living with us. We sought to head off any possible difficulties or misunderstandings. It just so happened when we called to ask if we could come over that Sunday afternoon, our next door neighbors were visiting on their back porch with an across-the-street neighbor in their regular 4 PM Sunday visit. When we shared the circumstances they assured us we would get no grief from them AND they invited us to join them regularly on Sunday afternoons! I also discovered that our next door neighbors belong to the subdivision book club and invited me to join the discussion this January. I praise God for a 2 Cor. 2:12 breakthrough in my personal desire to do the work of an evangelist (2 Tim. 4:5).

Does your prayer life lack motivation? It might help to ponder the wonder of being known personally by the God of the universe, an even more important idea than knowing Him. It certainly makes a difference for me. Thank you, Francis Chan.

Servants of God and Unprofitable at That

Lately while doing my morning workout I’ve been listening to George Verwer of Operation Mobilisation fame preach through passages of Scripture that have most significantly affected his life over the years of his ministry.

The most recent one focused on a couple of the letters to the churches in Revelation. No one exhorts like brother George and this message was no exception, particularly when he came to the question of pastors and the tendency we can have toward pride.

He questioned how we could even entertain such a notion given a passage like Luke 17:7-10.

7″Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? 8Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? 9Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.'”

Earlier in the context Jesus challenges the disciples to a radical standard of forgiveness that includes a frequency of seven times a day when an offending brother repents (v. 4). The disciples respond with incredulity and a plea for increased faith to obey (v. 5). After making a statement about the amazing power of even minimal faith, Jesus goes on to tell this story as another way of reinforcing his teaching on love and grace in offending relationships.

It has everything to do with understanding our fundamental identity as servants of the living God. He makes an argument from the lesser to the greater to drive home His point. He borrows from the culture an illustration about servants and masters and the way they relate. He asks a series of questions which imply their own answers.

The upshot is this. After working hard all day in the field, the servant does not expect to come into the house and find the master inviting him to recline at table for a well-deserved meal. In fact, he expects just the opposite. He expects to be told to make the master’s meal and to dress properly (literally – gird up the loins) for even more service. Only then when his duties have finished may he sit down to eat. Nor does he expect any thanks. This is just the way it works for one designated a slave. If this kind of mindset fits the lesser realm of the world, how much more so does it pertain to the greater realm of the kingdom.

I think this text has at least four things to say about our relationship to God as servants that should color everything about the way we go about obeying the Lord’s commandments in our lives. First, we should serve enduringly. The dutiful servant plowed the field, tended the sheep, AND prepared the meal. He worked hard all the day. We never rest from our labors as God’s servants until we go home to be with Him (Rev. 14:13). May our service endure over the length of our days.

Second, we should serve vigorously. The command to dress properly, gird up the loins, speaks to a certain energy and enthusiasm with which we must go about our service. The men in this day and culture dressed in long robes that were not conducive to manual labor. So when they wanted to get down and dirty with hard work, they tucked up their clothes into their belt to facilitate freedom of movement. Our service for God ought to have a flavor of eagerness and vigor to it that suggests we do our work unto Him with a whole heart.

Third, we should serve humbly. This is the main point of the story. Jesus signals this by the transition in v. 10 – So you also. He explains how a servant of God should talk after he finishes doing what God commands. The way he talks matters because it reveals the inclinations of his heart. What should we as God servants say? We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.

The word for unworthy appears only one other time in the New Testament in Matthew 25:30 in the parable of the talents. Jesus calls the one talent man who buried his master’s money in the ground rather than invest it worthless. Another way to say it would be unprofitable. He brought no return by his efforts.

So when we admit after laboring hard for God that at best those efforts are unworthy, what we are saying is they have merited nothing in and of themselves. They merit no thanks or reward. We have simply done what is required, commanded, obligatory for a servant to his master. Now we know from the Scriptures that God does indeed reward our service to Him, but He is under no obligation to do so and grants rewards by His grace just as He does everything else about our relationship to Him. Even if we forgive an offending brother or sister seven times in a day, it’s no big deal for a servant of God. You just do what you ought.

Lastly, we should serve completely. The text says when you have done ALL that you were commanded (emphasis added). God’s servants must not pick and choose from His word like some ala carte menu what they obey and what they will not obey. All His prescriptions for a holy life pertain to every one of His servants and they must compel our dutiful obedience.

Thomas Watson wrote in his classic A Godly Man’s Picture: A servant must not do what he pleases, but be at the will of his master. Thus a godly man is God’s servant. He is wholly at God’s disposal. He has no will of his own.

Do we see ourselves in such radically different terms? Has the identity of unprofitable servant sunk home in our hearts and dispositions? If so it will compel an attitude of service toward his requirements in our lives that is enduring, vigorous, humble, and complete.

The last notion we will ever entertain is that of pride.

The One Thing We Must Never Lack

Puritan Thomas Watson asserted that, “Pride is the greatest sacrilege; it robs God of his glory” (The Godly Man’s Picture).

If that is correct, then we ought to concern ourselves seriously about the cultivation of pride’s antithesis, humility.

Peter thought so when he exhorted the churches, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’” (1 Peter 5:5).

We certainly don’t want to end up on the wrong end of that equation.

What does this kind of humility that brings forth much needed grace look like?

Watson proposed a tenfold test of humility by which we may measure ourselves:

  1. A humble soul is emptied of all swelling thoughts of himself.
  2. A humble soul thinks better of others than of himself.
  3. A humble soul has a low esteem of his duties.
  4. A humble man is always preferring bills of indictment against himself.
  5. A humble man will justify God in an afflicted condition.
  6. A humble soul is a Christ-magnifier.
  7. A humble soul is willing to take a reproof for sin.
  8. A humble man is willing to have his name and gifts eclipsed, so that God’s glory may be increased.
  9. A humble saint likes that condition which God sees best for him.
  10. A humble Christian will stoop to the meanest person and the lowest office; he will visit the poorest member of Christ.

Occasional Puritan hyperbole notwithstanding, how do you fare when you shine the light of these qualities against your own disposition?

Watson declared, “It is better to lack anything rather than humility.” Do you see the Lord growing you in this all-important virtue of humility?

We would do well to make John the Baptist’s rally cry in John 3:30 our own. “He must increase, but I must decrease.”

May the Lord grant us grace upon grace for less of us and more of Him.