The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Month: June, 2013

Letter #7: Pride is a Problem

Dear Jonathan,

So I’m going to dispense with introductory small talk and jump right into something that has been on my heart since I received your last letter. Please don’t think of me as being judgmental, but I have to be honest with you.

Hello-My-Sin-Is-PridePride is a problem…a massively destructive problem!

I encourage you to go back and read your letter again to see if you can catch what I’m talking about. You really seem to be enjoying your theological studies, but you must be very careful as you gain more and more knowledge concerning the things of God. There is a knowledge that puffs up, but the good news is that it doesn’t have to be this way.

In fact, the more we come to know the Lord, the more our hearts should be humbled before him. I think of Paul who eventually grew to think of himself as the chief of sinners (that’s right…he “grew” into this). True knowledge of the Lord humbles us! That is “growth!” If our knowledge builds pride…then we either do not truly understand or believe the things we are learning.

While I was in seminary I felt as though I was on a roller coaster of pride and humility. One moment I caught myself lording my newfound knowledge over my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ (in class and in the church), and the next moment I was in tears before the Lord who was more awesome than I had ever imagined.

I found that the classroom could either puff me up or humble me. It could provide me with intellectual ammunition or internal adoration. Jonathan, what you learn in the classroom should lead you to one place…worship.

If seminary doesn’t drive you to your knees then you are merely gaining more knowledge about God, not actually coming to know more of God.

Oh…one last thing…don’t try to blame seminary for this problem of pride. I used that excuse for the longest time. Seminary is not a producer of pride…our hearts are the pride factory. If you find yourself struggling with pride…the problem is not outside you, but within and that is where the battle must be fought and won.

This battle is fought, not with more knowledge about God, but with knowing more of God. By the power of the Holy Spirit…fight! Fight this battle! It is a battle for your soul! You face many dangers in seminary, but nothing is more soul destroying and ministry neutralizing than pride!

Pride is a problem…a massively destructive problem!

Fight to know God and be humbled before him.

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here. 

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A Nagaland Father’s Day…

*In 2010, I was on mission in India during Father’s day. The following is a reflection I wrote shortly after what I experienced that morning…

Being away from your family stinks. Being away from your family on Father’s Day really, really bites. Thus, I found myself throwing a pity party as I sat down on the back row of Naga Christian Fellowship in Pune, India… nearly half-a-world away from my beautiful wife and two, precious, little ones.

It was hot and humid inside the old church building. The sound of the worship leader was being pumped through a system that was not fitted for the room we were in, and, as a result, I couldn’t really understand anything that was being sung or said. I found it hard to focus, so my mind occupied itself with thoughts of my family.

I was completely oblivious as to what was happening when the Pastor called for all the fathers to come to the front in order to be recognized. My friends immediately began encouraging me to go forward, but I declined… of course this was nothing more than a sulking expression of my self-pity… in which I was wallowing.

Then, Eddie Aldape, the father of the missionary family with whom I am staying, motioned for me to follow him down the center aisle. What choice did I have now? I hobbled out of my row and began the long, dreary walk to the front of the room. Each step was fraught with agonizing pain as I had just completed a fundraising 100km-walk-a-thon the day before. Further, I was embarrassed to be standing in front of complete strangers… I simply felt out of place.

Then everything changed…

Naga spearsA young Naga girl approached me with a pin of some type. I thought to myself, “Great! A stereo-typical Father’s Day flower.” Yet, as she pinned it upon my shirt I could tell that this was no flower. There, attached to the top of my shirt-pocket, were two decorative spears fastened across one another. Eddie leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Those are Naga spears.”

“They’re what?” I asked. Eddie repeated himself and began to explain to me the meaning behind the small pendant that was resting upon my chest.

Nagaland is a state of Northeast India. The Naga people were originally tribal headhunters and were greatly feared. In the late 1800’s there were a number of missionaries trying to travel into China, but were prevented for one reason or another. Instead of giving up, many brought the gospel of Christ to the people of Northern India.

Some of these missionaries set their hearts upon the headhunters of Nagaland. Without regard for their own lives, these men and women of faith took the Gospel to people who normally removed the heads of outsiders. They shared the love of Christ and the message of the Gospel… many Nagas believed.

As I stood at the front of that church, hearing that story… my eyes were slowly opened to what was truly happening in that room. There I stood, before a gathering of nearly 400 Naga believers lifting their hearts to the one true God… and the reason for it all was pinned upon my chest.

Because faithful men and women of God took the gospel into the midst of danger… because they did not count their lives to be of greater value than the furtherance of the gospel… because they abandoned all this world has to offer for the sake of Christ… because they did not fear the spears of the Nagas… because God worked through them by his power to bring many Nagas to faith… because of all of this, I was in that place… over a hundred years later… caught in the midst of rapturous worship with Naga spears, now a symbol of friendship, fixed over my heart.

I began to fight back tears as I heard a chorus playing softly in the background… “Thank you for the gift you gave.” This song had been playing since I left my seat, but I had not noticed its lyrics until that moment. My heart cried out to the Lord… “Yes! Thank you! Thank you! Thank you for the gift you gave! Thank you for the gift of your Son, Jesus, whom you gave for the world! Thank you for the gift of the missionaries you sent to the Naga people! Thank you gift of my brothers and sisters with whom I am worshipping right now! Thank you! Thank you!”

My attention was brought back down to earth for a moment as I heard the Pastor read from Psalm 22:4, “In You our fathers trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.” He began to talk about how great of a testimony it was for David to be able to proclaim such words about his forbearers and we should desire that our children be able to say the same of us.

While I greatly appreciated the thoughts he was sharing, my mind journeyed in a slightly different direction. I began to praise the Lord for my faithful fathers in the faith. For those who have taken the gospel in to the deepest, darkest, and most dangerous places on earth. I stood among a church whose very existence testified to the faithfulness of my spiritual fathers… and more importantly… their presence testified to the faithfulness of my heavenly Father.

He is faithful to use his Gospel to transform people… He used it to transform Nagaland… and He has used it to transform me.

In that moment… I realized that I was not away from my family on Father’s day… I was standing in their very midst. I am nearly brought to tears now, in the midst of typing, as I think about the astounding reality that I am eternally bound to these believers through the one Savior of all mankind, Jesus Christ. I have never felt the bond of spiritual brotherhood so strongly as in that moment. Jesus’ words from Matthew 12, which I had read that very morning, flooded into my mind…

“‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”

I was completely overwhelmed by the sense of family in that room. I still missed my wife and children, but now I missed them for a new reason. I did not miss them because we are bound together on some molecular level by DNA… no. Now I missed them because the very blood of Jesus Christ has cemented our hearts together as part of a world-wide spiritual family with one Father over us all. My heart longed to share this moment, this reality with them.

The Pastor prayed for all of the fathers standing before him and we headed back to our seats. I found that I couldn’t quit looking at the two small spears resting upon my shirt. In them I saw an eternal bond that I shared with these people I barley knew… and I now felt a new, deeper bond with those to whom I am the closest.

I walked all the way back down the aisle, but now I had forgotten the pain in my feet… my mind was occupied with thoughts of my beautiful wife and two precious children. I felt as though my love for them had grown deeper in ways that I did not think possible. At the same time, I was overwhelmed by the fact that this newfound love seemed to be spreading outside of biological boundaries and engulfing all of my brothers and sisters in Christ.

I shuffled down my row… no longer thinking of myself, for my pity had been replaced by joy. With my stereo-typical smirk, I sat down… surrounded by my family.

 

Two Things…

Two things…

As a young, Christian guy, there were two things I thought about almost more than anything else:

1. God.

2. Girls.

Unfortunately, it was not always in that order.  Still, these things preoccupied a good portion of my thought life throughout high-school. Occasionally, these two subjects would intersect in the form of a prayer that went something like this, “God, would you just reveal to me who the girl that I’m supposed to marry?”

Now I had many variations of this prayer, all of which were designed to make me sound as though I had nothing but noble and pure intentions… I mean what other kind of intentions would I have had?!?!

Two things…

1. I often found myself longing for a direct experience of God’s voice.

2. I often found myself longing for a deep relationship with a girl (that wasn’t my mother or sister).

Now imagine what it would have been like if I had been privileged to experience both of those things. Let’s even pretend they coalesced, as in one of my prayers, and I was actually allowed to hear the audible voice of God booming from the heaven’s pronouncing the girl to whom I was to be wed!  Can you fathom such a scenario?  Are you aware that just such a thing has actually happened before…

Hosea 1:2, “When the LORD first spoke through Hosea, the LORD said to Hosea, ‘Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.'”

Yeah… not exactly how I imagined the conversation either.

This how the minor prophets open.  This is how we are introduced to Hosea.  Apparently, this is how Hosea the prophet was introduced to hearing the voice of God.

Two things…

1. Hosea got to directly experience the voice of God.

2. Hosea was told to form a deep relationship (marriage) with a prostitute.

Why?

Why did Hosea’s ministry begin this way?  Why was this the word which the Lord spoke to Hosea? Why was Hosea called to marry a woman whom he KNEW would be unfaithful to him?

Why?

God actually told Hosea why at the very end of verse 2.  God said that the reason Hosea was to take a prostitute as a wife was because, “the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the LORD.”  Hosea’s marriage was to reflect the relationship that the LORD shared with his adulterous, rebellious people who were constantly seeking after other gods (Hosea 3:1).  The message of the prophet was not going to be something external to himself.

Hosea would not just speak his message… he would live it.

Hosea would not just declare to the people what was on the heart of God… he would feel the very heart of God.

Hosea’s heart and the heart of the LORD would beat in rhythm with one another… both to the broken beat of love.

Two things…

1. God faithfully loves his people as his bride.

2. God’s people are an unfaithful, adulterous wife.

These two facts create a problem within the book of Hosea. The rebellious, sinful nature of God’s people is condemned with incredible words and images of judgment (e.g. Hosea 2:1-13). God is righteous, holy, and just.  He will not leave the sin of his people unpunished.

Yet, the LORD is faithful. He loves his bride even though she does not deserve it. His love and faithfulness is not founded upon the worthiness of the bride, but on his unfailing nature. God’s number one commitment is to uphold his glory by being the faithful, unfailing God of steadfast love.

That God is committed first to himself, to be who he is, is the greatest news in all the world for us because this guarantees that his love for us will never fail! If his love were rooted in our worthiness, it would be gone in a second, but it is rooted in his faithfulness to be who he is!

We have been an adulterous wife that deserves only judgment, but God, in commitment to his own glory, continually gives himself to us! This is the greatest, most loving thing he could give us…himself! We want God to be committed to his own glory for this gives a rock solid foundation to his love for us!

Thus, within the book of Hosea, we do not only find words of judgment against God’s adulterous people…we also find words of hope, restoration, and healing (e.g. Hosea 2:14-23). Judgment is not the final word from the LORD…nor is it the final word for Hosea’s adulterous wife, Gomer.

Untitled1In Hosea chapter 3, the prophet’s prostitute-wife had landed herself in a desperate situation, most likely slavery.  Yet, Hosea bought back his bride.

Redemption.

The Gospel.

Two things…

1. Sin brings slavery.

2. The Savior brings salvation.

Gomer and Hosea are a small-scale picture of a much larger reality. Humanity has landed in a slavery that is much more binding than physical chains, and there is only one who has the power to break our bonds. Hint: It is not Hosea.

Jesus.  Jesus is the redeemer/the slave freer/the people purchaser. Jesus is the Gospel…and we are Gomer.

We are Gomer?  I thought we began this whole “Hosea-story” by putting ourselves in Hosea’s shoes and imagining what it would have been like to hear the voice of God calling us to marry one who would be unfaithful.  However, the truth of the matter is that we are not supposed to identify with Hosea…that is not our part in this Gospel story.  No.

We are Gomer.

Two things…

As a Christian, there are two things I think about almost more than anything else:

1. God.

2. Gomer (me).

Fortunately, thoughts of God and Gomer often intersect in my mind, and there is only one thing that can hold God and Gomer together…

Grace.

Praise him for his glorious grace!

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