home > Pastor’s Desk > 2022 > APRIL 15th > A DECREASING VISION

“For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 2017:125

There is one sin that is worse than all others. It is the worst because it is insidious and imperceptibly deceptive. It is always at the root of all other sins. It was the original sin. In C.S. Lewis’s classic book, Mere Christianity, it warranted an entire chapter (“The Great Sin”) and Lewis claims that it is the greatest threat to any person – including the Christian – and their standing before God. Thus, to be truly spiritual, Spirit-led, Spirit-empowered, and spiritual, demands that the man or woman of God be on guard against what Lewis called “spiritual cancer” — pride. To have any chance of guarding against the spread of this deadly spiritual and character blighting ‘cancer’ requires that we adopt a decreasing vision of ‘greatness’.

He must increase, but I must decrease.”
John the Baptist, John 3:30

 

THE PROBLEM WITH RECOGNISING PRIDE 

C.S. Lewis tells us what we all already know about spotting pride: we loathe it when we see it in someone else, but never (except for Christians) imagine that we are guilty of it ourselves (p. 121). In fact, Lewis continues, the problem is that the more easily we can recognise pride in someone else the more likely we are guilty of the same pride. We are all quick to justify or excuse ourselves of our own pride, and just as quick to condemn it in others as inexcusable.

The fear of the LORD is hatred of evil.
  Pride and arrogance and the way of evil
and perverted speech I hate.
Proverbs 8:13

THE ESSENCE OF PRIDE IS COMPETITIVE

How we think about pride and humility is very often confused and unhelpful. In John DIckson’s book, Humilitas, he defines humility as withholding your power for the good of others. He gives the illustration of a black man in the 1930s sitting at the back of a bus in Detroit (USA) when a three teenage white boys got on the bus at the next stop. The young boys soon start to call the black man names and taunt him. This taunting intensified until the black man came to his stop and stood to leave the bus. The boys were surprised that he was much taller than they had realised. As he walked up to the boys he reached into his pocket and gave one of them a business card on his way past, and then got off the bus. After he left the boys looked at the business card which simply read: Joe Louis, Boxer. These three boys had just picked a fight with the undefeated world heavyweight boxing champion. Joe Louis, in the opinion of Dr. John Dickson, displayed great humility. Did Joe Louis know that he could dispatch these young men? Certainly. Was that confidence that he had in his ability a form of pride? Yes and no. C.S. Lewis writes in Mere Christianity that there is a virtuous pride that comes from working hard and achieving a desired outcome. We expect this of tradesmen. We want them to take pride in the work. This kind of pride, Lewis argues, is for the good of others. The ‘others’ in this instance could be a student’s parents as he or she strives to do their schoolwork for the pride of their family name. A teacher may encourage this in her students when she tells them, “Take some pride in your work and rewrite this essay.

“We say in English that a man is ‘proud’ of his son, or his father, or his
school, or regiment, and it may be asked whether ‘pride’ in this sense is a sin.
I think it depends on what, exactly, we mean by ‘proud of’. Very often, in such
sentences, the phrase ‘is proud of means ‘has a warm-hearted admiration for’.
Such an admiration is, of course, very far from being a sin.”
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity.

But Lewis contrasts this desirable pride with the cancerous pride of competitiveness

“In fact, if you want to find out how proud you are the easiest way is to ask
yourself, `How much do I dislike it when other people snub me, or refuse to take
any notice of me, or shove their oar in, or patronise me,. or show off ?’ The
point is that each person’s pride is in competition with every one else’s pride.”
C.S. Lewis

Lewis writes, “Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next man. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others.” Pride is therefore the attitude of considering ourselves to be better than another. Lewis is quick to point out that this does not mean thinking less of ourselves, but rather that we should each think less about ourselves! The ultimate pride is therefore atheism. The atheist’s pride reaches to the heavens and at its core wants to be better than the Supreme Being.

“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.” – C.S. Lewis

 

DECREASING INTO GREATNESS

Jesus described John the Baptist as the greatest man who has ever lived (Matt. 11:11). John had been drawing huge crowds to his baptisms (Matt. 3:5). When Jesus came on the scene, the crowds dissipated and went after Jesus (Matt. 4:25). John’s response is the inspiration for the title of this week’s Pastor’s Desk – He must increase and I must decrease. And I find in John’s words the essence to true humility and the antidote to cancerous pride. To be great – truly great – requires this kind of attitude. To be a great follower of Christ we must be others focused, thinking less about ourselves, prepared to serve without praise, forgive without apology, repent without pretense, and prepared to praise and thank others even if we are not. This is, I fear, what it means to decrease and allow Christ to increase in our lives.  

Your pastor,

Andrew

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JESUS ATE with SINNERS!

This confrontation of the All-Good meeting face-to-face with Serpent-breath in the wilderness didn’t go the way the Dragon had become accustomed to. Even more baffling to him was what the Eternal Son did next. Rather than going to the supposed ‘rulers of this world’ He went to the despised and inconsequential: the people of His hometown, Nazareth and those in the socio-economically challenged region of Galilee. 

¶ And He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and He stood up to read…When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. But passing through their midst, he went away.
¶ Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to Him, and He laid His hands on every one of them and healed them. And demons also came out of many, crying, “You are the Son of God!” But He rebuked them and would not allow them to speak, because they knew that He was the Christ.
Luke 4:16, 28-29, 40-41

Even more baffling to the Satan was that instead whipping up the mobs and leading a rebellion, the Christ went to the shunned, the despised, the broken, the humiliated, as their dinner Guest! It seemed like an odd strategy, especially to those who had been longing for so long for the arrival of the Promised One…

CHRISTIANITY IS A PROPOSAL NOT AN IMPOSAL

I do not want to give anyone the impression that Christian is just a set of intellectually propositions. It is much more but it is certainly not less. One of the propositions that we Christians make is that Christianity is a spiritual transformation of a soul. While its propositions are true, they are not just true, they invoke a miraculous transformation in a human being. Jesus described this as being “born again” (John 3:3). The New Testament describes the moment this happens as being a transaction with God where we surrender our life and our sin to Him and He gives us His life and His pardon (1Jn. 1:8-9)! This transaction includes a hope that goes beyond the grave. God the Father adopts all those who turn to Him. It results a new way of seeing life and the world. The things that once troubled us no longer do, because we have a growing confidence that God has a plan and is currently outworking that plan. If you have never surrendered your life in a transaction with God, you can now. You are just one prayer away from peace with God and purpose for your life – both now and beyond the grave! The choice is yours. We can’t impose this offer from God on you, but I do have a proposition for you.

DIVINELY PRECIOUS TRIPLETS

Some of the profound truths in the Bible are expressed in just three words. The late J.I. Packer, one of the world’s most respected modern theologians, was asked to sum up the gospel message. He did so in just three words: “God saves sinners.” Many of the most eloquent prayers ever uttered have consisted of no more than three words: “Help me Lord”, “Thank You God”, “God save me”, “Please heal her.” One of the greatest royal invitations only consisted of three words: “Come unto Me.” Three words is all it takes to start an exciting journey: “Come and see.” Many of these three words statements, prayers, and invitations, have become divinely precious triplets that have rescued a lost soul, repaired a broken relationship, and replenished the worn-out.  

ETERNAL LIFE IS NOT JUST MERELY A MATTER OF TIME

The beauty of John 3:16 is that it is so simple it can be understood even by a child; and yet, as a believer’s knowledge of God and His Word grows, he or she will come to discover that there is a wealth of spiritually-satisfying treasure to be mined! In its simplest form, Jesus died so that all those who turn to Him in trust will go to heaven after leaving this life. Dig a little deeper though, and you also discover that the eternal life on offer is not merely about a location (‘heaven’) or a duration of time—but a quality of life and status of existence that elevates the believer into a glorified state with God Himself (Rom. 8:17; 1John 3:2). Our lives are now the training ground for our status as co-regents and co-rulers with Christ over all of His redeemed creation (1Cor. 6:2-3)! 

WHAT WOULD YOU DO IF YOU FOUND A NEWBORN BABY AT YOUR DOORSTEP?

What would you do if you found a newborn baby that someone had left at your door? Hopefully your answer sounds similar to “I’d take care him or her.” What if it wasn’t a baby? What if it was a young child or a teenager, or an adult, who turned up at your door requesting to be helped? I hope that each of us would also be prepared to help whoever it was. What if it was not an abandoned child, a youth, or an adult? And what if it was not your front door? Instead, how might we each respond if it was a spiritually abandoned, and spiritually hungry, person who turned up at our church seeking help to know how to be saved? While you might feel a similar compassion as you might have felt for the child at your door, you may not be as confident in how you would spiritually help this person seeking a spiritual connection for God through Jesus Christ. “Where would I begin?” “How could I be an effective discipler of a new believer?” you might ask. Well, I’m glad you’ve asked. For any Christian to effectively disciple a new believer it must involve an individual, a small group, and a congregation.

THE WIND BLOWS WHERE IT WISHES – SO IT IS WITH THE SPIRIT

This week I have heard of yet more stories of people who had no knowledge of Christianity as they grew up, yet had an almost sudden conversion to Christ. This has included the stories of several Muslims (now ‘former Muslims’) who knew nothing to very little about Christianity, and had always been taught that Islam was the one true religion, who then heard a Christian explain the gospel and were then supernaturally converted to follow Christ. (Several of these Islamic converts to Christ also had supernatural dreams where they claimed that Jesus appeared to them!) I also heard of an atheist scientist who been taught that science could explain away the need for believing in a God, who then heard the gospel and was resoundingly converted to Christ. The other story I heard was closer to home and involved a young lady who had grown up in an atheist home where her parents were actually hostile to religion and forbad her from anything to do with Christianity. Years later, she ventured into a church one Sunday morning, heard the gospel, and was converted to Christ. Each of these stories confirm what Jesus taught about the work of the Holy Spirit and His mysterious and surprising dealings with people to undergird the church’s preaching of the gospel.

I WAS IN THE SPIRIT ON THE LORD’S DAY

A year earlier all hell had broken loose when the tyrant emperor Caesar Nero had outlawed Christianity; and now, the last surviving apostle of Christ had been banished to Patmos Island. All looked bleak. The youngest of Christ’s apostles, John was just a teenager when he witnessed the brutal and protracted execution of Jesus. John, now in his fifties, had many reasons to feel disappointed and even disillusioned with God. His apostolic colleagues had each been martyred – having been put to death in often gruesome ways including: crucifixion, flaying, and beheading. On this barren rocky island, separated from the woman he had pledged to her crucified Son that he would look after, and away from the people that Christ had shed His blood for, John was alone. Ever since Jesus had risen bodily from dead, these life-time faithful sabbath-keeping Jews now recognised that Christ had sanctified the first day of the week, Sunday, as His day. It was also on this sanctified day that Christ poured out Holy Spirit on his gathered disciples. Ever since that day, no matter how he felt or the circumstances he was in, John had made it his custom to be in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. And his first Sunday on this island of banishment was no exception. He was in the Spirit on the Lord’s Day. While some weak Christians find disappointment with God an excuse to forsake God, John did not. While some weak Christians allow their excuses for disappointment with God to walk away from their church family, John did not. John’s example has something to teach us. 
¶ I, John, your brother and partner in the tribulation and the kingdom and the patient endurance that are in Jesus, was on the island called Patmos on account of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus. I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day…
Revelation 1:9-10a

NEVER BE AFRAID AGAIN

Fear can be crippling. Being afraid is often the result of not what is happening, but what we fear might happen. Such fears make each of us vulnerable to withdraw, give-up, hide, or excuse ourselves from ever trying something new. The result of this happening is that we each become less than who God has created us to be and in the process we deny the world the benefit of what God can do through us. In the Bible there are many stories of many heroes who learned the secret of overcoming their fears by trusting God and learning how to ‘fear’ Him despite their circumstances or fearful expectations. We read of how Kings led their vastly outnumbered army to defeat immensely more powerful and ruthless enemy armies by fearing the Lord. We read how previously unsure, uncertain, unable people became fearless, decisive, and confident and able to solve previously insurmountable problems by simply fearing the Lord. We read how the arrogant were humbled and transformed into gentle and caring souls when they experienced the fear of the Lord. Then in the early chapters of the Book of Acts when becoming a Christian could cost you your life, we read of the numbers of Christians exploded across the Empire because they also no longer had a reason to be afraid because they learned what it meant to fear the Lord.

THE FRUIT DIET WORTH MORE THAN MONEY

How different would your life be if you were filled continually with the Holy Spirit? This seems to have been the experience of at least the first Christians. We know that Jesus told His disciples after His resurrection to “receive the Holy Spirit” (Jn. 20:22) which may have been the moment that they were “regenerated” which is a fancy way of saying that they were born again (Jn. 3:3). But then Jesus told His disciples to wait for the outpouring of the Spirit (Lk. 24:39; Acts 1:4) which was yet to come. The effect on the disciples when this happened was dramatic — especially in the Simon Peter (Acts 2:14). He went from being a cowering timid fearful backslider to being a bold courageous fearless leader of the Christ’s Church (Acts 2:15-39). Then some days later, as Peter was about to bear witness before the rulers of Judaism, he was filled afresh with the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8). When Peter met again with the other believers to pray, all of them were filled with Holy Spirit again (Acts 4:31). Thus, being filled continually with the Holy Spirit seems to have been the usually experience of the early believers. As the Church grew and spread, the early Christians’ understanding of who the Holy Spirit was and what He wanted to do in each believer and church also grew. They discovered that the Spirit didn’t just fill them to be bold proclaiming witnesses, He also enabled them to bear witness to the power of Christ by how they lived. The apostle Paul called this, the fruit of the Spirit. 

HOW TO MAKE SENSE OF IT ALL

One of the emotional/intellectual problems that people who accept that there must be a God that resembles closely or exactly the God described in the Bible have had over the years is the problem ow Why would an all good and all powerful God allow suffering, evil, and tragedy in His world? Either He is not really all good and doesn’t care — or He is not really all powerful and is unable to do anything about it. Theologians refer to this problem as Theodicy (the problem of evil). This problem is resolved by asking a greater question: Does God ever ordain or allow what we perceive to be “wrong” because He has a morally good reason for doing so? This greater question is answered when we reflect on Christ’s passion and crucifixion. By working through these questions we may be able to understand why God might allow or ordain natural evil (floods, fires, disastrous weather events) and committed evil (such as wars, violence, crimes against people, brutal oppression of others). Especially when we view the world from the perspective of there being an eternal Judge who redeems those who turn to Him, and holds to account those who don’t. This is why answering the question of destiny is so important to making sense of life and the world we live in.