Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Men Are Oblivious to the Great Sin

The Apostle John writes in 1 John 2:16, "For everything in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - come not from the Father but from the world."

Many men consciously struggle with lust and much is said and taught about it in the Christian's men's movement. The literature and audio-visual resources on lust are abundant and  replete with “tips and techniques” about how to spot lust, resist it and conquer it. 

Yet the most insidious sin we men commit is pride, to which we’re by and large oblivious. The early church viewed pride as the utmost evil because it leads to all other sins. C. S. Lewis called it the “Great Sin”. Men's teaching and study resources on pride are actually pretty rare. Pride is a rare sermon topic or sermon series. It's also something you'll rarely, if ever, hear a man ask his brother to pray for him about. "Hey Bro, I'm really struggling with my pride this week. Would you pray that God would really humble me?"  As men, we will often admit to the brothers our yielding to “fleshy” temptations but confessing and repenting of pride easily flies under the radar. Likewise we men often enter into accountability relationships with another man or men yet few, if any, of us ask to be held accountable for our pride. Nor do we happily exhort one another toward humility.

C. S. Lewis has much to say to us about pride and why it is so subtle, pervasive and pernicious. Likewise Lewis is deeply insightful about its contradistinction - humility  

In a chapter called "The Great Sin" in Mere Christianity, Lewis writes,

"There is one vice of which no man in the world is free. Which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else, and of which hardly any people, except Christians ever imagine they themselves are guilty. I have heard people admit that they are bad tempered or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink. Or even that they are cowards. I do not think that I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. . . . There is no fault that make a man more unpopular and no fault of which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. The more we have it ourselves the more we dislike it in others. The vice I am talking about is pride or self conceit. And the virtue opposite to it in Christian morals is called humility."

He further observes,

 "In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that—and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison —you do not know God at all.  As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud  man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you....That raises a terrible question.  How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious?  I am afraid it means they are worshiping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people… Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good —above all, that we are better than someone else — I think we can be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil." 

Lewis concludes,

 "It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature.   But this does not come through our animal nature.  It comes directly from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices.  Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity – that is, by Pride.  The devil laughs.  He is perfectly content to see you becoming chase and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride – just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return to give you cancer.  For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense."

Pride is the complete anti-God state of mind and is not as much for something as against something. Evil itself is not something—it’s the absence of something. Lewis observes, “Goodness is, so to speak, itself: badness is only spoiled goodness. And there must be something good first before it can be spoiled… Evil is a parasite, not an original thing.” Thus, the source of all our ills comes from what Lewis says is “putting yourself first—wanting to be the center—wanting to be God".

So what do you do with this?

Well, here's challenge. From his brief yet excellent booklet From Pride to Humility, Stuart Scott has compiled a helpful list of thirty biblical indicators as to the extent pride lurks in our hearts. Read them, meditate on them and share them other brothers as together you take on the "Great Sin".

1.     Complaining against or passing judgment on God (Numbers 14:1-4, 9, 11; Romans 9:20)

2.     A lack of gratitude (2 Chronicles 32:25)

3.     Anger (Proverbs 28:25; Matthew 20:1-16)

4.     Seeing yourself as better than others (Luke 7:36-50)

5.     Having an inflated view of your importance, gifts and abilities (Acts 12:21-23)

6.     Being focused on the lack of your gifts and abilities (1 Cor. 12:14-25)

7.     Perfectionism (Matthew 23:24-28)

8.     Talking too much (Proverbs 10:19)

9.     Talking too much about yourself (Proverbs 27:2; Galatians 6:3)

10. Seeking independence or control (1 Corinthians 1:10-13; Ephesians 5:21)

11. Being consumed with what others think (Galatians 1:10)

12. Being devastated or angered by criticism (Proverbs 13:1)

13. Being unteachable (Proverbs 19:20; John 9:13-34)

14. Being sarcastic, hurtful, degrading, talking down to them (Proverbs 12:18, 24)

15. A lack of service (Galatians 5:13, Ephesians 2:10)

16. A lack of compassion (Matthew 5:7, 18:23-35)

17. Being defensive or blame-shifting (Genesis 3:12-13; Proverbs 12:1)

18. A lack of admitting when you are wrong (Proverbs 10:17)

19. A lack of asking forgiveness (Matthew 5:23-24)

20. A lack of biblical prayer (Luke 18:10-14)

21. Resisting authority or being disrespectful (1 Peter 2:13-17)

22. Voicing preferences or opinions when not asked (Philippians 2:1-4)

23. Minimizing your own sin and shortcomings (Matthew 7:3-5)

24. Maximizing others’ sin and shortcomings (Matthew 7:3-5; Luke 18:9-14)

25. Being impatient or irritable with others (Ephesians 4:31-32)

26. Being jealous or envious (1 Corinthians 13:4)

27. Using others (Matthew 7:12; Philippians 2:3-4)

28. Being deceitful by covering up sins, faults, and mistakes (Proverbs 11:3; 28:13)

29. Using attention-getting tactics (1 Peter 3:3,4)

30. Not having close relationships (Proverbs 18:1-2; Hebrews 10:24-25)

Here is a list of twenty-four manifestations of what Christ exulting humility should produce in your life. Make these a frequent measure of self-examination and accountability.

1.     Recognizing and trusting God’s character (Psalm 119:66)

2.     Seeing yourself as having no right to question or judge an Almighty and Perfect God (Psalm 145:17; Romans 9:19-23)

3.     Focusing on Christ (Philippians 1:21; Hebrews 12:1-2)

4.     Biblical praying and a great deal of it (1 Thessalonians 5:17; 1 Timothy 2:1-2)

5.     Being overwhelmed with God’s undeserved grace and goodness (Psalm 116:12-19)

6.     Thankfulness and gratitude in general towards others (1 Thess. 5:18)

7.     Being gentle and patient (Colossians 3:12-14)

8.     Seeing yourself as no better than others (Romans 12:16; Ephesians 3:8)

9.     Having an accurate view of your gifts and abilities (Romans 12:3)

10. Being a good listener (James 1:19; Philippians 2:3-4)

11. Talking about others only if it is good or for their good (Proverbs 11:13)

12. Being gladly submissive and obedient to those in authority (Rom. 12:1-2, 13:1-2)

13. Preferring others over yourself (Romans 12:10)

14. Being thankful for criticism or reproof (Proverbs 9:8, 27:5-6)

15. Having a teachable spirit (Proverbs 9:9)

16. Seeking always to build up others (Ephesians 4:29)

17. Serving (Galatians 5:13)

18. A quickness in admitting when you are wrong (Proverbs 29:23)

19. A quickness in granting and asking for forgiveness (Colossians 3:12-14)

20. Repenting of sin as a way of life (Colossians 3:1-14; 1 Timothy 4:7-9)

21. Minimizing others’ sins or shortcomings in comparison to one’s own (Matthew 7:3-4)

22. Being genuinely glad for others (Romans 12:15)

23. Being honest and open about who you are and the areas in which you need growth  (Philippians 3:12-14; Galatians 6:2)

24. Possessing close relationships (Acts 20:31-38)

© 2011, Dave Brown is a pastor and the director of the Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries (WACMM) and has been the men’s pastor at McLean Bible Church in McLean, Va. He served for 30 years in the federal government’s Senior Executive Service (SES), including eight years as an appointee of President Ronald Reagan. He did his seminary work at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Reformed Theological Seminary. He’s been a leadership consultant, university administrator and member of the board of directors for the C.S. Lewis Institute.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Camaraderie and Fraternity of the Battlefield

Satan watches for those vessels that sail without a convoy,” wrote Puritan pastor George Swinnock (1627–1673). Every individual knows he was created for community. Isolation is the Devil’s playground, and our Enemy is on the lookout for the Christian who thinks he can stand alone in independent isolation from the fellowship, accountability, and encouragement of faithful brothers and sisters.

Before the fall of man, even though the Lord God walked in close communion with Adam in the garden, our gracious and triune God knew it was not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18), and so God created someone who would meet Adam’s needs and relate to Adam in a way that, by design, God Himself did not. In His often-overlooked grace, God blessed mankind with the most beautiful, intimate, and joyous relationship that exists between mere human beings: holy wedlock between a man and a woman, who by design and covenant become one flesh. Nevertheless, even from that glorious union, He called them to multiply themselves into communities of families that would populate and dominate creation to share life and glorify God together.

God gave each of us an insatiable hunger to experience life together — life’s joys and passions and life’s sorrows and burdens. Men need men, and women need women. Younger men and women need to listen to and learn from the wisdom and experiences of older men and women. Older men and women need the passion and patience to sit down and tell their stories and lessons to the next generation. Women need authentic relationships with other women to form the enduring companionship of sisterhood that not only detests divisive gossip and grudges but defends, encourages, and bears the burdens of every woman so that no woman is left alone to fend for herself in serving the Lord in her many callings.

Even though many men are completely content with the community and companionship of images, games, and voices on a screen, men desperately need the camaraderie and fraternity of other men. Men are made to experience intimate and authentic, loyal and enduring friendships with other men — on the battlefield, in the foxhole, at the gates of the city, and at the coffee shop on the corner. And while no wise and truly humble man will ever consider himself a hero, each and every man of God by His grace is called to strive to conquer this world, his flesh, and the Devil, shoulder to shoulder with other men who together serve one another in a company of heroes as husbands and dads who serve by leading their wives, families, churches, and communities into fellowship with God.

by Burke Parsons, editor of Tabletalk magazine and associate minister at Saint Andrew’s in Sanford, Florida

The Eagles, Desperadoes and God

"Desperado" was a big hit for the Eagles back in 1973 and has been covered many times since then by such artists as Linda Ronstadt and Johnny Cash. One of the song’s classic lines speaks to angst of our times: “It's hard to tell the night time from the day; And you're losing all your highs and lows; ain’t it funny how the feeling goes away... Desperado, why don't you come to your senses?”

A desperado, according to Webster’s, is someone who is so desperate they are willing to do things that involve risk or danger, and often criminal behavior. Author and poet Henry David Thoreau once observed that “most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” Thoreau and the Eagles both got it right about the plight of American manhood today.

Psalm 84:2 tells of another kind of desperation. David was a desperado. There was a time he was a man on the run, a man in hiding from King Saul. He knew both the sweet and bitter providence of God in his life. In this Psalm David laments, “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Do you feel that way about God? Are you desperate for Him? Do you have a gnawing, aching hunger inside to know your Heavenly Father better?

Luke 15 tells the story of the prodigal son who became a desperado of sorts. After zealously claiming his inheritance from his father, he squandered it on wild living and chasing after all the world has to offer. He ended up slopping hogs and eating after them. Then the text says he “came to his senses”. God humbled him and he confessed his sin and need for his father’s grace and mercy. He became a desperate man for reconciliation with and the embrace of his father. He discovered that only his restored relationship with his father could satisfy his heart’s desire. Do you feel like you’ve squandered away blessings and opportunities God has given you on foolish, selfish living? Are your desperate for God’s rescue and reconciliation? Do you long for His embrace?

John Piper writes about why it’s a good thing for men to be “spiritual desperados” for God.

“The New Testament teaches us that whether or not our treasure is really in heaven is most clearly seen when it costs us our earthly treasures in order to obtain it. But American Christians live in the most prosperous nation in world history and the one in which it costs the least to be a Christian.”

“This environment can be deadly to faith. It allows false faith to masquerade as real faith very easily. And its power to dissipate zeal and energy and mission-focus and willingness to risk is extraordinary because it doesn’t come to us with a whip and a threat. It comes to us with a pillow and a promise of comfort for us and our children. The former makes us desperate for God. The latter robs our sense of desperation.”

“And it’s the lack of a sense of desperation for God that is so deadly. If we don’t feel desperate for God, we don’t tend to cry out to him. Love for this present world sets in subtly, like a spiritual leprosy, damaging spiritual nerve endings so that we don’t feel the erosion and decay happening until it’s too late.”

“So we must fast and pray for and support the suffering church in the diseases that can set in from harsh adversity. But we must also fast and pray for God to deliver us from the diseases that set in from prosperity. We need him. We can discipline ourselves in various ways. But we cannot manufacture our own desperation. Only God can make us desperate for him.”

“So God, whatever it takes, increase our awareness of our dependence on you in everything! Keep us desperate for you so that the deceitfulness of sin does not harden our hearts (Hebrews 3:13). In Jesus’ name. Amen.”

by Dave Brown, Director and Pastor-at-Large, Washington Area Coalition of Men’s Ministries