Pride and the Resurrection

It is easy to think too highly of one’s self. I am always humored by this in some people. One of my best friends will always say about someone who believes himself better than is that he, “Thinks more highly of himself than he ought.” Pride is paralyzing and the antithesis of the Gospel message. When we believe ourselves better than we are—better than nothing—we miss the need that we have for a saving touch from our powerful Savior.

This time of the year we remember and celebrate the resurrection of our King, we should remember it was a lack of pride that provided our redemption. If anyone should thinking highly about Himself it would be the King of Kings. However, the Son of God humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross. Therefore we should check our pride. Remove it. Kill it. Destroy it. It has no place in the life of the believer. Pride is the delighted statement that we know better than God and have no need for His ways. This must be vanquished from our thinking. Pastor Jonathan Dodson writes these words:

There is an antidote to pride, and it is not to think less of ourselves. Instead, we ought to dwell upon the God who did become one of us, who gracefully withstood our scorn and self-adulation. Jesus is the God who, in the face of pride, calls us to the cross. How can we be proud there, where our evil pins our God to a tree? In the midst of rejection, Jesus embraces our smugness and extends an accepting embrace. But we must look upon him. We must give up our self-made authority, and sense of accomplishment, if we are to receive his forgiving, awe-inspiring embrace.

Towering above the authority of Self, Jesus comes low — so low that his face is pressed to mortal bandages, to ensure the rescue of his persecutors. On Easter morning, he burst his grave clothes to give us a way out of our pride, to recover awe. The resurrection restores astonishment. It eats up our pride in soul-thrilling glory. The way out of pride is worship, to look upon a God who is greater than ourselves. We recover awe when we acknowledge the greatness of his sacrifice, the depth of our sin, and the height of his love — all in the person of Christ.

As we come to the cross, the place where our shame and sin were destroyed, we must come on our knees, humble before our God. We go to the cross remembering that the one who went there first, went there with a humble heart.

Jonathan Dodson is pastor of City Life Church in Austin, Texas, and author of the new book The Unbelievable Gospel: Say Something Worth Believing.

Are you Desperate?

I want to ask you a question: Are you desperate? I realize there are several different ways you may go about answering the question. You may think there is a wrong or right answer; a particular answer that I am looking for by asking the question.

You may feel that you are not desperate, that you have all you need. Maybe that is because you are a Christian and believe Christ is all you need. That is a solid answer. Maybe you are not a Christian but know you are not desperate because you have great material wealth and status. That, too, is an answer.

You could, however, be on the opposite end of the possible answers. You know you are desperate. You do not have all you need. Hunger is a real threat to your survival. You struggle to pay your bills. You find yourself sinking deeper into debt. When you see the question you know that you are desperate and your needs are great.

Think with me about this question: Are you desperate for God? That changes things entirely. Many of you reading this have a relationship with God and therefore do not believe it necessary to find Him. You have found Him or, more appropriately, He has found you. This is where I want to direct the flow of this article and caution my fellow believers.

I believe the Bible shows a clear pattern of the necessity of being desperate for God. The pattern goes something like this: God calls someone to Himself who is desperate, they follow for a while, they slowly become less desperate for God, their relationship is ultimately ruined, they are separated from God, they become desperate once again, God calls them…

I think this pattern is present throughout the biblical storyline and that is where I want to take us over these next several articles. I want to dissuade us from getting to a place where we are no long desperate for God. I want to caution us against the comforts of easy Christian living and remind us that those people who were called by God in the Bible found their relationship with Him in shambles when they stopped being desperate. Let’s look this month at the beginning of the biblical storyline with the pinnacle of God’s creation, Adam.

You might think that Adam was not desperate for God. He lived in perfection as the manager of the Lord’s garden. However, he was desperate for God. All his hope was in God. He knew nothing but full dependence on the Lord. The Lord had breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life and Adam lived in perfect relationship with the Lord. However, that desperation is questioned.  “Did God actually say, “You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” the serpent says to Eve, Adam’s wife. “Do you have to be truly desperate for the Lord?” he is saying. “Must you be fully dependent upon Him?” This provided Adam an opportunity to rebuff the serpent, lead his wife, and declare his dependence on God.

Adam’s answer has had repercussions throughout the rest of human history. Adam does not speak, but rather takes the very fruit that he has been commanded not to eat and consumes it. His actions state boldly to his wife and the serpent, “I am not desperate for God, there is another place I can find my hope!”  This answer destroys His relationship with His Creator.

Our God does not want us desperate for anyone or anything else. Ultimately Adam blames his failing on Eve who in turn blames the serpent. However, blame is inconsequential. The damage is done and the relationship is broken because Adam ceased to be desperate for God—his hope was elsewhere. Adam and Eve are removed from the garden, forced to toil, feel pain, and eventually die. Adam’s curse is passed down from generation to generation. Because he stopped being desperate for God, he fell into sin’s trapped and condemned the world.

God does not abandon Adam. We read the encouraging words of Genesis 4:26: To Seth (Adam’s son) also a son was born, and he called his name Enosh. At that time people began to call upon the name of the Lord. After murder and pain, people began to call upon the Lord. People once again realized that they were desperate for Him.

Observations for the Day After an Election

As I peck away at the keyboard, millions of Americans will go vote today. Sadly, only about 1 in 3 Americans who are of voting age will actually vote in this election and many do not even take thie privilege seriously. I recently overheard a man at a fast food restaurant proudly proclaim he had written in his dog for the U.S. Senate. I am not sure that our soldiers and patriots intended to die for that vote.

A lot will be made depending on how things shakeout today. If the GOP wins the Senate, it will be seen as a death knell to the President’s legislative agenda. If the Democrats maintain control, it will be thought that there is glimmer of hope for the President’s second term. No matter the election, the President is always on the ballot.

As a former political hack and junkie, I want to share some thoughts that are always helpful for me on the day after the election.

1. You will probably not like the people you voted for as much after they are elected. If the person you have hitched your horse to is elected today, you probably will not like them as much tomorrow. They are, in the end, a politician and they represent a large number of people. If their goal is to affect change, they will probably have to do some things you do not like. If they want to get ahead and advance themselves, they will have to do some things you do not like. If they never do anything you do not like, they will probably not represent you very long.

2. Washington changes people. This is a best guess on my part, but it comes from some pretty good observations. One of two things is normally true about people who go to Washington. They are either hardened politicians who are keenly aware of the political game, or they are idealist in for a rude awakening. Washington is a place of backrooms deals and political maneuvering. While I want a leader who is above such things, the people who do not play the game are normally not in a position to bring home the bacon. If we are honest, that is why most people vote for a certain person or party; they believe they or their district will get something in return.

3. Local elections are important. I imagine a lot of voters do not know anything about names on the ballot past the first couple. How much time did you spend researching the judges or county commissioners? Those people may affect more change on you than the ones who ran non-stop television ads. Not a lot of money to run television ads for the soil and water conservation district positions. Are they important? That is a matter of opinion, but they are on your ballot and surely you do not want to be the type of person that plays a guessing game with your vote. Local officials plan your tax rates and oversee your child’s education. Do not neglect to know who you are voting for locally. That decision may haunt you more than the people you ship off to Washington.

God willing, the sun will come up tomorrow, new public servants will take office in December and January, and we will move forward. If tomorrow is disappointing, remember, the Iowa Caucuses are less than 430 days away!

From the Depths

Several months ago I began leading us through Psalm 107. We have seen examples of the greatness of our God’s salvation and how far His reach can be. The final example he gives begins in verse twenty-three. It is different. Honestly, I thought at first it was bit strange because these people were not really doing anything bad, but trouble comes upon them.

23Some went down to the sea in ships,
    doing business on the great waters;
24 they saw the deeds of the Lord,
    his wondrous works in the deep.
25 For he commanded and raised the stormy wind,
    which lifted up the waves of the sea.
26 They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths;
    their courage melted away in their evil plight;
27 they reeled and staggered like drunken men
    and were at their wits’ end.
28 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble,
    and he delivered them from their distress.
29 He made the storm be still,
    and the waves of the sea were hushed.
30 Then they were glad that the waters were quiet,
    and he brought them to their desired haven.
31 Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love,
    for his wondrous works to the children of man!
32 Let them extol him in the congregation of the people,
    and praise him in the assembly of the elders. (Psalm 107:23-32, ESV)

 

These men did nothing wrong. These people simply went out on the ocean. They are fishermen or merchants or in some other nautical profession. They have their business on the sea and are working. In fact, we are told they were looking at the beauty of God’s creation. They are witness to His wondrous works, but a storm hits. We are painted the picture that their ship is tossed about. Verse twenty-six says, They mounted up to heaven; they went down to the depths. Their ship goes up and then falls far down. Their courage melted away. They are scared. They stagger about the boat like a drunk.

Think about how many times we see this image of a dangerous sea in the Bible. We see it with Jonah. We see when Jesus calms the storm. The sea must have been a terrifying place to be. There was no radio communication. There was no one you could call for help. There was no Coast Guard. You were simply out there on your own. If the ship was destroyed, you were going to the bottom of the ocean and no one would see you again. Your family would not know where you sank nor would they know how you died. So to go on a ship, and make these types of voyages, you had to be a person of great courage.  This storm makes even that melt away.

Sometimes, we come to God when we go through a storm and we have nothing left. These people, however, are not pictured as having nothing. They, most likely, had whatever they needed. They are doing business. They are doing well and yet, God sends the storm so that they will see their need for Him. That may have been your situation in life when you came to Christ. That is when some of you gave up doing your own thing—going in your own way—and followed after Him. You realized your inability when the storm hit and you knew without Him you were not going to make it. The waves were crashing to and fro and you finally realized that you could not do it on your own.

If that is the case you should say so. If that was the case and you cried to the Lord, He listened, He saved you, He calmed the storm, and He brought you to the place that you were needing to go, shout it from the roof tops.

The Psalmist even tells us who should be the audience of our thanks. He is very specific and I think there is a point to this.  First, he says the congregation of the people. That was the gathering of the religious people. He says you should talk about it when you get to the worship gathering. You should talk about the fact that God has brought you out of this storm. You should allow other people to celebrate with you. It should be exciting when God does something. It gives us hope. It gives us courage for the future. What encouragement it gives me when I get to share in the joy that God is providing someone else. How helpful it is for me as a pastor when I get to hear what God is doing in the lives of the people under my care. Sometimes I am privileged to hear this on a day when I do not feel like He is doing something in mine. In the same way, I want to share with others when God does something in my life because it can encourage us. It pushes us along. It helps us to get through our own dark times and our own storms. We should share in the congregation of the people.

Next he says, And praise him in the assembly of the elders. This would be the public gathering. He says do not simply go to the religious gathering, share it in public. Elders here are not referring to elders as we would think of in the New Testament.  In the Old Testament world, cities would have elders as leaders of the city. Many times they would be religious, but this is a public gathering. It is not enough for us to share with each other what God is doing but rather we must commit ourselves to sharing it outside the walls of our church. He is working in our lives. Share it to the religious and share it to those who are lost. Share the blessings that God has given.

You Can’t Handle the Truth!

As I sat watching a hearing taking place in Washington, DC, I began to think about the truth. Witnesses were giving testimony about events that took place in a foreign land over 18 months ago. Regardless of the outcome of these hearings or others like them, their necessity lies in an ultimate problem with the truth.
It seems it is very hard to find someone who will tell the truth. I have watched dozens of Congressional hearings convened because someone did not tell the truth. Even more happens because our leaders will not admit they did wrong. Regardless of political parties or whether or not it is an election year, we need our leaders to be truthful.
I would like to have leaders who will look us in the eye and tell us the truth. I think most of us in this country are big boys and girls and can take the straight talk. I know there are some who are not but maybe it is time to stop bowing to the lowest common denominator.
The truth, for too many who try to lead us, may be unpleasant. Were they to tell the truth they may have to disclose inappropriate relationships, shady financial ties, past moral failings, wishy-washy decision making, or self-doubt. However, the truth is necessary for leadership—if the truth is too hard, you cannot lead.
I would like to have leaders who will admit when their legislation was not the great plan they had initially promised, who will condemn members of their own party who are foolish or bigoted, and who will care more about the people who elected them than the next office they plan to seek. I wonder if there are leaders out there who will be make decisions that are based on the Constitution and rule of law as opposed to the platform of their deeply flawed parties. I would like a leader who will commit to be a public servant not a pocket-lining politician.
I had a dear friend in a previous church I served who often told the story of her father who ran for the Senate in the 1940s. She remembers being shocked when someone pointed out that her father’s odds of being elected were slim. This was not because he was a crook or held the wrong political views. She was told he would never be elected because he “was a good man.” If that was the case then, how much more so now?
I am glad that I do not have to rely on our elected leaders to provide me salvation. I know the Truth and He does not reside in Washington or Raleigh. The Truth sits at the right hand of His Heavenly Father. I do, however, desire earthly leaders who will tell the truth, talk straight, and lead us well. I know that may seem like a big request, but in the greatest country in the world it is not too much to ask.

Dr. Micheal Pardue
Icard, NC

Brought out of Darkness

Some sat in darkness and in the shadow of death,
prisoners in affliction and in irons,
for they had rebelled against the words of God,
and spurned the counsel of the Most High.
So he bowed their hearts down with hard labor;
they fell down, with none to help.
Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,
and he delivered them from their distress.
He brought them out of darkness and the shadow of death,
and burst their bonds apart.
Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,
for his wondrous works to the children of man!
For he shatters the doors of bronze
and cuts in two the bars of iron.
(Psalm 107:10-16 ESV)

Some people have been delivered by God from things that are illegal—things that are criminal.  The Psalmist has in mind in this passage someone who is sitting in the darkness in the shadow of death—prisoners in affliction and irons. We see someone who has been imprisoned because he has broken the law, whether man’s or God’s, and for it he is paying with his life. Their sin against God has landed them in chains.

It is important for us to remember that when we commit a sin it is ultimately against God. Now there are times when we have to pay for those sins with some type of criminal punishment. If you drive over the speed limit and the trooper pulls you over you are going to pay the government for your sins. If you kill someone you are going to pay our society for your sin. You are going to sit in jail behind iron bars.  You are going to be incarcerated maybe for the rest of your life.  Ultimately, however, our sin is against God.

The good news for us is that our God is big enough to deliver people from things that are illegal. He delivers people from things that are criminal. I think it is interesting that he refers to them as not only sitting in darkness but also as being in the shadow of death. It is interesting that those who commit crimes in our society, those who do things illegal, are most often those people who live in constant fear of their own life. They fear that someone, because of their illegal activities, is going to take their life. Many fear that the victims of their crimes will seek retribution for what they have done.  They have to think that they may die because of their criminal activities.

The Psalmist thinks about those people here. He thinks about those people who have lived lives that are very unpleasing to God. They have committed terrible crimes that have led to their incarceration.  However, God is not powerless and can bring them out. God is able to deliver them from that sin and deliver them into a relationship with Him.

In verse thirteen, as they sat there their hearts bowed down and no one help, verse twelve says they cry out to the LORD in their trouble and He delivered them from their distress. It is amazing that God delivers them and He destroys their bonds. He shatters doors of bronze and He cuts in two the bars of iron. God is able to deliver criminals from their sin. How sad it is that those of us in the church have no desire to see these people delivered.

I sat down a couple of months ago after watching news of someone dying on death row and I began reading the last words of those condemned to die. The state of Texas keeps a record of the final meal and last words of every inmate who is put to death.  They make it available where the public can go and read it. I read the final statements of dozens of the executed—so many of them defiant until the last moment. So many admitted to what they had done and were proud of it even to the moment where a needle was plunged into their arm causing a sleep from which they would never awaken. However, there were some, when you read what they spoke that used those final words to ask families for forgiveness. Some even used this time to proclaim that their life belonged to the Lord. I do not know enough about any of them to go back and say that they were genuine in this or if this was just something they said. They may have wanted to feel better with their conscience in their last moment of life.

How interesting, though, to think that because there are people who are concerned and go into our prisons and our jails sharing the gospel with those who have been so terribly afflicted by sin there can be hope. That though there are some who have committed the most heinous crimes and are about to pay for it with their life to our society there can be redemption.  In that moment they can have the calm assurance of knowing that their sin has been taken off their life and has been placed on Christ. The most wretched sinner can know that God has looked on them and through Christ has forgiven them of their sin. How great a Savior we have that He is willing to look to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death and offer them forgiveness—to exclaim to them that “today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43).

Lettuce Help You

Not long ago I was traveling with my three sons and my father on a hunting trip in eastern North Carolina.  We were tired after several hours on the road and decided to stop in at McDonald’s to grab a sandwich before settling in for the evening.  Our order was long and somewhat complicated so my father and I stood by talking while our food was prepared.  Meanwhile, at the other register another gentleman was ordering.  The specificity of his order made mine look easy.  He must have thought he was at Burger King because he most definitely wanted the order “his way.”  The man received his order and left the counter while my father and I continued our conversation.

A few seconds later, the man returned with his sandwich.  Everyone knows this is a bad sign.  If the workers had forgotten something, the man would have come back empty handed.  However, when someone returns with their sandwich, someone has got something wrong.  This has happened to all of us.  Ordered a chicken sandwich and received a burger, or vice versa.  This would not end up being the case for the man at the adjoining register.  The worker who had constructed his sandwich had used the wrong type of lettuce.  McDonald’s has both sliced and shredded lettuce.  The sandwich he ordered typically comes with sliced lettuce but he had been adamant that the lettuce be shredded.  He proceeded to, quite rudely, point out to the young girl at the counter the mistake.  Over and over again he pointed to the fact that he had ordered shredded lettuce.

It was one of those moments that I frequently find myself in where I am embarrassed for someone.  In that moment I was embarrassed for that man, his family, and really anyone who had ever known him.  I felt bad for whoever had to call this guy their husband, or dad, or friend.  This man was making a complete fool of himself but that reality did not seem to bother him in the least.

The server corrected his order, apologized once again, and the man left the counter.  Moments later we received our food, left the counter, and enjoyed the rest of our trip.  I didn’t think about that incident again until about a week later when I was sitting in the back of the chapel at a local funeral home.  The family had not yet been brought in and I’ve always found that funerals are a very appropriate time to reflect.

Funerals are a symbol of something final.  Whether we stick with the nomenclature “funeral” or the more recent rendition “celebration of life,” it is hard to look past what a funeral means.  As I sat there waiting for the service to start, I was drawn back to the incident at McDonald’s a week earlier.  I found myself profoundly saddened by the actions of the elderly gentleman and his lettuce preferences.  He had been willing to verbally assault a teenage girl because the lettuce on his sandwich had not been cut properly.  For him, it was worth being downright nasty to get things his way.

At the same time, I thought about what was happening in this funeral service.  We were there to say goodbye to one of God’s children who had departed this life to be with her heavenly Father.  What a contrast in situations.  The first, where priorities were completely out of kilter and the other which brought such clarity to life and what is significant.

I tell you this story to encourage and challenge you with this: set wise priorities. The Apostle Paul, writing to the church at Ephesus has just encouraged them to “walk as children of light” (v. 8) and to “take no part in the unfruitful words of darkness” (v. 11) when he writes:

Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Eph 5:15-16, ESV)

There is a day coming when we must all give an account to God for the things we have done.  Our lives are vapors that are here today and gone tomorrow.  Funerals are a good reminder of that fact.  Therefore, it is of the upmost importance that we make wise decisions today—that we set our priorities on the things of God.  That we do not waste our time worrying about the cut of our lettuce, but that we take great care to make wise decisions.  Our enemy loves to get us distracted into unfruitful activities that prevent us from being on mission as witnesses to Christ.  Walk carefully brothers and sisters.  Be wise.  Make the best use of your time because the days are evil and time is short.