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Posts Tagged ‘C.J. Mahaney’


In our day and age humility is not seen as a blessing. We live in the age of the big ego. This is the dawning of the age of narcissism. Our social media usage seems to stroke our pride as we seek after likes.

IThe Blessing of Humility: Walk Within Your Calling‘m aware of the irony. I’m writing this on a blog, part of social media, hoping people will read it. But I’m hoping they will go beyond this blog post to the book I’m writing about: The Blessing of Humility by Jerry Bridges.

Jerry Bridges has written many books that I’ve found helpful in the course of my life as a Christian and a pastor. This is one of the last books he wrote prior to his death. I was unaware of its release until seeing it in a clearance sale. Good for me, but a sad reflection on society and even American church culture. This is a book too many of us need to read.

Pride is like bad breath, everyone knows you have it before you do. The struggle against pride is one that is a daily affair, if we are paying attention. Over time I’ve read a few books on the topic including Humility: the Forgotten Virtue by Wayne Mack, and Humility by C.J. Mahaney. I used Mack’s book for our Men’s study at one point.

In Bridges’ book, he looks at the Beatitudes as a description of humility. Humility is one of the twin traits of mature Christianity. The other is love.

Bridges notes that in Jesus’ day, humility was looked down upon in Roman culture, the dominant culture of the day. Before moving into the Beatitudes, he addresses some key texts including 1 Peter 5 which joins precepts and promises.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you,…

Humility is the metaphorical clothing we should wear as we appear in public. We are to be humble in our relationships with others and with God, in keeping with the two great commandments upon which hang the whole law. While humility seems off-putting and working against our advancement in life, God offers promises of grace and glory for those who humble themselves in this way. There is promised blessing for humility.

Bridges view of the Beatitudes is one of what a sanctified person looks like. While our failure to possess these characteristics as we should points us to Jesus who perfectly manifested them for imputed righteousness, we must not stop there. Like Mark Jones, Bridges sees this as a description of imparted righteousness in sanctification. The Beatitudes reflect whom Jesus is making us as He conforms us to His likeness. Thus we are to seek these traits and therefore humility.

“In the Beatitudes Jesus is talking about the character traits of those already in the kingdom.”

In this relatively short book, just under 150 pages, he explains teach character trait and ties it to humility. With short chapters it can be read devotionally. It contains a study guide in the back for group study or personal reflection and application of the material.

What we find is not an exhaustive book, but certainly a helpful book. It is not very technical, assuming a knowledge of the original languages or lots of theological terminology. It is written for ordinary people to study. He often connects the ideas he is exploring with hymns that express those sentiments. It is rich in Scripture and hymnody.

Humility is poor in spirit. We recognize that we are spiritually destitute and unable to please God in ourselves. Our struggle with sin is far more profound than we realize, and realizing that is half the battle. Maturity means increasing in our awareness of this ongoing struggle. Our focus shifts from our actions to our attitudes and thoughts.

It is because we are still practicing sinners that we mourn. We mourn our spiritual poverty. We aren’t simply aware of our continuing sinfulness but broken hearted about our continuing rebellion.

Meekness points us to the humility of accepting the difficult circumstances in our lives as part of God’s wise, loving providence. Following Thomas Watson (for Bridges loved the Puritans as well as hymns) he applies meekness toward other people in terms of “bearing of injuries, the forgiving of injuries, and the returning of good for evil.” We will all be subject to the sins of others against us. Humility does not retaliate but bears, forgives (!) and bestows good. This is so contrary to our prideful flesh what strikes out, bears grudges and tries to destroy the offender. Our words are often weapons we use against them.

“Meekness is a defining grace, produced by the Holy Spirit in the life of the Christian, which characterizes that person’s response towards God and man.”

We also have a hunger and thirst for righteousness, to be personally righteous. Such hunger and thirst is not so we don’t need Jesus but so we are like Jesus and bring Him glory. Prideful righteousness, religiosity, is an attempt at self-salvation. It is in this section in particular that Bridges distinguishes between positional and personal (what he calls experiential) righteousness. If I am a Christian I need not hunger and thirst for positional righteousness. I have it! But I do for personal righteousness.

Jesus then moved to mercy, and so did Bridges. He develops the idea of mercy as compassion in action. It is not simply empathy but moving to relieve misery as seen in Isaiah 58 among other places. Part of mercy is remembering the sins of others no more. This is not forgetting but choosing not to bring those sins up against them anymore. This happens only as we see the fact that God no longer remembers our many and grievous sins.

Bob Dylan plays a guitar and sings into a microphone.Another aspect of humility is purity of heart or whole-heartedness. He ties this into the fact that we are not our own but have been bought with a price. We are property of Jesus, as Bob Dylan sang long ago. Purity of heart recognizes this and seeks to see all of life through that lens.

Conflict is regularly addressed in Scripture. When I recently preached through Philippians I was shocked to discover how much this “epistle of joy” was marked by conflict. As someone going through a prolonged conflict, I found hope as well as conviction as I struggled to preach through such a “simple” letter. Humility seeks peace, and makes peace. Peacemaking is very difficult and goes against all our basic inclinations to seek peace on our terms. In other words, there complete surrender.

“To be a peacemaker, then, means we absorb the hurtful words or actions of others without becoming resentful, retaliating, or even cutting off a relationship with the person.”

Humility is revealed in how we respond to being persecuted for righteousness’ sake. While it is appropriate for American Christians to seek protection in our earthly citizenship (Paul, as Bridges notes, appealed to his Roman citizenship at times) we should recognize that our courts system will fail us eventually. We may lose our rights as the tide rises against Christianity. While experiencing hostility, we are not to be hostile but humble. Bridges reminds to entrust ourselves to our Creator, like Jesus, and continue to do good in keeping with 1 Peter 2.

He ends with humility and the gospel. He channels his inner Jack Miller and talks about preaching the gospel to himself and yourself every day. The gospel is not simply the door we walk through to begin life as a Christian but the path we walk as Christians. Humility only grows in gospel soil.

“It is the gospel that will keep us from becoming discourage and will instead motivate us to keep pursuing humility, even when we fail so often.”

This little book is gospel-drenched. That means it is encouraging, not discouraging. Our failures are opportunities to look to Jesus, not a call to despair or simply try harder. The humble and meek Jesus is ready to pardon and help us. Humility keeps coming to Jesus as our only hope. As we do this we find ourselves no better than others, in part because we are not focused on their sins so much. Our sins, and theirs, drive us to Jesus who deals with us as a wonderful, merciful Savior.

This is a book worth the time to read and think about.

 

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Systematic Theologies are not the most exciting reads.  Joshua Harris seeks to change that with his book Dug Down Deep: Building Your Life on Truths that Last. This is a systematic theology for the average person. Harris sticks to the essentials: doctrine of God, Christ, the Spirit, Scripture, Salvation, Sanctification and the Church.  For the most part he avoids controversial areas, though for some the essentials of the Christian faith can be controversial.

One thing that sets this apart from most (not all) books of this kind is that theology is not seen as abstract.  He begins with the notion, similar to John Frame, that truth is to be lived.  It is a foundation for our lives, providing stability in the storms of life (as Harris notes from the end of the Sermon on the Mount).

“Theology matters, because if we get it wrong, then our whole life will be wrong.”

Another thing that sets this apart from just about every systematic theology I’ve read is the use of narrative to explain or illustrate the importance of particular doctrines.  It is similar to the work his friend Don Miller has done, but not nearly as funny.  He even has a few hand-drawn illustrations in his section on sanctification.  So this is far more interesting than Berkof or just about any systematic theology.

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I just finished Proclaiming a Cross-Centered Theology after laboring over it far too long.  I just haven’t had as much time to read as I like (this may shock some of you who think I read too much).  It is a collection of messages from one the Together for the Gospel conferences (sample pages).

I found it to be a very uneven book.  There was a great disparity in the length of the chapters, as though some speakers were given far more time than others.  Some of the shortest chapters were from those I most wanted to hear.  Yet, some of those (while good) sounded an awful lot like other messages they’ve done.  Since I don’t preach on the conference circuit, I am probably expecting too much for them to come up with a new message to fit the occasion.  When I was ‘only’ doing pulpit supply during my transition, I would preach the same text a few times, tweaking it depending on the congregation.  But no one travels hundreds, or thousands, of miles to hear me speak.  This was a tad disappointing.

The book kicks off with a rather long chapter on Sound Theology by Ligon Duncan.  He defends systematic theology as necessary for the life of the church.  It is popular today (and most days) to decry systems, but we should be able to summarize doctrine to promote understanding of the whole.  Preaching and teaching should be both expositional and theological, and Duncan notes.   This is, in part, because our theology must be biblical.  Yet, you don’t build a doctrine on only one text.  That is a HOV line to heresy.

“Systematic theology is tied to exegesis.”  John Murray

Duncan notes some problematic views that have popped up.  His charity is on display in that he doesn’t name names.  His goal is not to stigmatize anyone, but point out flaws in certain positions which tend to be anti-theological.

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“I’m just a big ego, and everywhere I  go

people know the part I’m playing…”

So went the lyrics on a spoof on David Lee Roth’s cover of Just a Gigolo.  It fit since he was often said to possess quite the ego.  I read an  interesting chapter on ego in leadership.  I started a new book, The Longview: Lasting Strategies for Rising Leaders today.  It is written by Roger Parrott, the President of Belhaven College.

The first 2 chapters were great.  The first was on the challenge to take the longview, or to make decisions as if you will never leave.  He finds (with support from many business studies) that what is wrong with business (and the church & parachurch) is that decisions are made only for the short-term to get quick results so you can move to the next position.

As I read this chapter I was convicted.  At a particular point I started thinking of my next position, and sort of checked out.  I probably made lousy decisions at that point.  And that is Parrott’s point- when you are treating the position as temporary it shapes your concerns and choices.  You want to look good NOW, with little to no regard for what will happen after you leave.

One reason people look toward the next position instead of taking the longview is ego.  They want bigger and better.  They view the current position only as a stepping stone to the next step up the corporate or church ladder.  This is why I didn’t go into youth ministry.  I knew I would only treat it as a stepping stone.  (Don’t worry, my pride showed up in other ways like the self-righteousness of not playing the “game”).

Because ego-driven leadership must be continually fed, it demands that immediate needs are always more important than the longview results, thus stifling opportunity for ministry of lasting value.

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Polemical Theology, whether in written or verbal form, can quickly descend into some ungodly places.  Name calling, anger and refusing to listen to what another actually says are evidence of a lack of love.

Another form of “unfair” dispute is the use of the straw man argument.  Here is a good, quick definition:

A straw man argument is an informal fallacy based on misrepresentation of an opponent’s position. To “attack a straw man” is to create the illusion of having refuted a proposition by substituting a superficially similar proposition (the “straw man”), and refuting it, without ever having actually refuted the original position.

You can tell that Dr. Roger Nicole & J.I. Packer are such good friends.  At times their counsel is so similar.  How to engage in theological debate is one such area.  Dr. Nicole told us to read our opponents, not only second hand sources, so we might truly understand their arguments.

Dr. Packer inserts this wonderful little sentence in the midst of Keep In Step With the Spirit:

“But all positions should be judged by their best exponents.”

He applies this to the various proponents of the views of sanctification.  It is unfair to argue against something by using either a straw man (which doesn’t exist) or its worst example.  You may win the argument, but you defeated a foe that either didn’t exist or rarely exists.  It would be like beating the Bad News Bears, yet claiming to be MLB World Series champions.

I see these arguments regularly in books by authors who should know better.  Sometimes these arguments are used by men who place themselves in the bounds of either Reformed Theology or Calvinistic soteriology (they embrace the 5 points but not a covenantal view of Scripture or other distinctives of Reformed theology).

For instance, one book I read argued against contemporary worship songs.  It did this on the basis of the worst examples of contemporary worship songs.  It brought up the most pathetic, insipid, meaningless songs as if they were representative of contemporary worship songs.  This author may have convinced many people he was right, but he never dealt with the real deal.  Missing were interaction with the contemporary hymns of Townend and Getty, the songs of Matt Redman or Chris Tomlin or any other songs that seek to communicate biblical theology (Sovereign Grace or Indelible Grace would be other examples).

Another highly respected author attacked the charismatic movement on the basis of its worst excesses.  There was no interaction with sane, thoughtful charismatics who share his Calvinistic views like John Piper, Wayne Grudem or C.J. Mahaney.  All were lumped in the same heretical basket, ready to be tossed out &  burned up.

We who understand the doctrines of grace should be more humble & loving in our disputation.  We should argument against real people holding real positions.  And the best representatives of that position- not the Single A or college team.

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I’ve done a few posts on A Gospel Primer for Christians: Learning to See the Glories of God’s Love by Milton Vincent already.  This would be my review of this great little book.  As the title indicates, the focus on the book is on the gospel for Christians.  In the final part- Surprised by the Gospel- Pastor Vincent relates how he finally grasped that the gospel is ALWAYS the basis for our acceptance before God.  It is not just about our initiation to Christianity, and then we work our tails off to stay in God’s good graces.  He was at the end of his religious rope when he spent time meditating on Romans 5 and it all clicked for him.

The book includes a series of meditations on the gospel to rehearse or preach the gospel to yourself each day.  Then he includes 2 gospel narratives, one prose and the other poetic (see the Table of Contents and Forward). 

The heart of the book is really the meditations.  I recommend going through one a day, spending time to mull over the truth of what he is saying.  The goal is not to finish the book, but to sink the gospel and its implications increasingly deeper into your heart.  The gospel is not just about our justification, but about how Jesus severes the root of sin and is the power of godliness. 

“Never be content with your current grasp of the gospel.  The gospel is life-permeating, world-altering, universe-changing truth.  It has more facets than a diamond.  Its depths man will never exhaust.”  C.J. Mahaney

So this little book is intensely practical.  I highly recommend getting a copy and keeping it handy to drink deep of the gospel.

I’ll close this with a quote from Horatio Bonar that he includes:

“Terror accomplishes no real obedience.  Suspence brings forth no fruit unto holiness.  No gloomy uncertainty as to God’s favor can subdue one lust, or correct our crookedness of will.  But the free pardon of the cross uproots sin, and withers all its branches.  Only the certainty of love, forgiving love, can do this.”

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This morning we were talking about Psalm 16 in preparation for Sunday’s sermon.  One guy thought it reminded him of guys he knows grabbing themselves by the collar and preaching the gospel to themselves when facing temptation.  In Psalm 16, David is reminding himself of God and His benefits because he’s in danger of forgetting them in the midst of his troubles.  Psalm 16 becomes a great example of what it means to preach the gospel to yourself.

Preaching the gospel to the people

Preaching the gospel to the people

Ivan brought up the movie Luther.  Early on, Satan is accusing Martin and he is overcome with despair.  His Confessor Staupitz overhears this and enters his cell and preaches the gospel to him, summarized by “I am yours, save me!”.  Later, while at the Diet of Worms, Luther is again assailed.  This time he preaches it to himself- “I am yours, save me!”  He was internalizing the significance of the Christ’s saving work so he’s remember and believe it in the midst of spiritual attack.  If you haven’t seen this movie- what are you waiting for????

In the process of talking about preaching the gospel to yourself, I remembered a (short) interview with Jerry Bridges by C.J. Mahaney on the subject.  I think Jack Miller coined the phrase, but he is at least the first person I remember using it.  Maybe he got it from someone else.  But it is a helpful way to spend 20 minutes.

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