Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Cultivating Humility, Killing Pride

Here are six ways to actively cultivate humility, courtesy of C.J. Mahaney:

  • Reflect on the wonder of the Cross
At the beginning of each day
  • Acknowledge your need for God
  • Express gratitude to God
  • Practice the Spiritual disciplines
  • Use your commute time to memorize Scripture
  • Cast your cares upon God
For more, read C.J.'s book Humility: True Greatness from Multnomah Publishers.

erstwhile (adj.): former, past

From a RECENT PIECE entitled "Strange Bedfellows: Evangelicals Learn to Love Big Government" in the Taste section of OpinionJournal.com:

When Al Gore's film on global warming, "An Inconvenient Truth," arrived in theaters on Wednesday, it had the usual endorsements from Hollywood stars, left-leaning politicians and radical professors. But it also had a blurb from a more surprising figure: Richard Cizik, the vice president of government affairs for the National Association of Evangelicals.

Mr. Cizik has been hobnobbing with an unlikely crowd lately. One day he is in a Newsweek photo spread, clutching a Bible in front of the nation's Capitol. The next he is posing barefoot in Vanity Fair, looking suspiciously as if he is walking on water. The following week he is chatting up Berkeley professors and joining political powwows with Bono.

With Mr. Cizik's help, the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)--representing 52 member denominations and about 30 million evangelicals--has become one of the most talked-about lobbying groups in the nation. But what are evangelicals lobbying for these days?

Take the Evangelical Climate Initiative, endorsed by Mr. Cizik, which has "put global warming on the evangelical agenda," according to the NAE's Washington Insight newsletter. The initiative pushes the government to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. It has been supported by Christian leaders from across the spectrum, including Rick Warren, the author of "The Purpose Driven Life"; Peter Borgdorff, the executive director of the conservative Christian Reformed Church; and Jim Wallis, the editor of the liberal Sojourners magazine.

While alliances like these may raise the eyebrows of a few purists, many evangelical leaders are too busy plotting policy to be bothered--and the environment is just the beginning. "We have a realist strategy," Mr. Cizik told me. "You go to the gays to pass the AIDS bill. You go to the ACLU to pass the prison-rights bill. You work with your erstwhile opponents to achieve the common good."

Read the rest of it HERE.

I wish I believed Mr. Cizik didn't mean "erstwhile". Wrong-headed initiatives like this show why THESE GUYS and THIS DOCUMENT are so needed.

Was Lincoln a Christian?

Tim Challies seems to think so. Read his review of Abraham Lincoln: The Man and His Faith HERE.

Yesterday, in my review of Doris Kearns Goodwin's book Team of Rivals, I said I wasn't confident Lincoln was a believer but his moral goodness made me wonder.

The book is not a new release, and is, in fact, out of print. You can find used copies on Amazon HERE.

Challies highly recommends it and says it's well researched and documented.

Monday, May 29, 2006

Team of Rivals

I've been working my way through Doris Kearns Goodwin's massive history of Abraham Lincoln and his Cabinet, Team of Rivals, since Christmas. I just finished it today.

I have not been a fan of Doris Kearns Goodwin. I've read her book Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream and listened to her commentary on the PBS American Experience documentary series on the presidents, and in both cases I've been dissatisfied with her psycho-analytical approach to history. In attempting to deduce the complex mixture of emotions and motivations behind particular acts of historical figures, she lapses into speculation (at best) and fiction (at worst), often beginning sentences something like this: "I think he must have felt in that moment that..." This isn't the best approach to history.

In 2002 Goodwin's reputation as a historian was tarnished somewhat when it was revealed that some portions of her 1987 book The Fitzgeralds and the Kennedys. Read about those charges here. Perhaps in order to ensure that no such accusations can be made against her latest book, or perhaps to make a point, the end notes in Rivals run on for more than 120 pages.

In Rivals, Goodwin benefits, I think, from her own remoteness in time from the people and events she chronicles. She is forced to stick close to the original source materials - mainly personal letters, private diaries, transcripts of speeches, newspaper accounts, and government documents - in order to construct the narrative. She keeps her psycho-analytical/speculative tendencies in check for the most part.

The greatness of Lincoln is demonstrated in his humility, kindness, quickness to forgive trespasses and indiscretions, and overall charitable disposition toward even his most vicious foes. He avoids inflamatory or unflattering statements and shows an unwillingness to alienate anyone unnecessarily. The devotion and affection Lincoln inspires in longtime opponents and rivals is a testimony to his lack of guile and eagerness to recognize even the smallest trace of good intent in the misguidedand sometimes malicious behavior of others. We also see the wisdom of Lincoln in his decision-making ability, his eagerness to seek the counsel of his cabinet and other advisors, and his openness to correction when his judgment was off.

Lincoln seems so good that I began to say to myself "Lincoln demonstrates more of the fruit of the Spirit than I do." Goodwin emphasizes Lincoln's disbelief in the Christian view of the afterlife early in the book but later allows that perhaps his religious convictions changed and deepened in the trying years of the Civil War, manifested, perhaps, in his frequent references to and apparent belief in God's sovereign purposes and judgment, and the need to appeal to Him for help in the war. My own impression is that either Lincoln is portrayed as more virtuous than he actually was, he is the best unbelieving man there ever was, or he was in fact a Christian.

I was slightly annoyed by a passage early on in the book in which Goodwin emphasizes that neither the affectionate and openly emotional language of letters exchanged between men in the mid-19th century, nor the fact that circuit-riding lawyers like Lincoln often shared beds with colleagues, should be construed as suggestive of homosexuality on the part of Lincoln or others. She returns to the topic briefly toward the end of the book. I was not so much annoyed with Goodwin for including such a defense as with the fact that we live in a culture so perverse that a great man's status as a heterosexual has to be vigorously documented and defended.

I was also surprised to find that Goodwin incorrectly refers to Lee surrendering to Grant "at the Appomatox Court House." This is a novice's error. The surrender took place in a village called Appomatox Courthouse in the home of one Wilmer McLean, on whose former property elsewhere in Virginia the first Battle of Bull Run was fought. Ken Burns' film The Civil War documents the ironic fact that the war began and ended on McLain's property. Goodwin should have gotten this right.

I recommend Rivals to you. The wisdom and moral uprightness of Lincoln shine through in this excellent work. He is a shining example of virtue. This worthwhile book serves to remind us that we should relate to friend and foe alike with patience, charity, and kindness, as Lincoln did.

Humility: True Greatness

I just finished C.J. Mahaney's book Humility: True Greatness. I don't want to write a proper review, but I would like to post just a few of the many memorable and convicting passages I marked with my trusty red pencil:

"Let me make this clear from the outset: I'm a proud man pursuing humility by the grace of God." (p. 13)

"Pride takes innumerable forms but has only one end: self-glorification. That's the motive and ultimate purpose of pride - to rob God of legitimate glory and to pursue self-glorification, contending for supremacy with Him. The proud person seeks to glorify himself and not God, thereby attempting in effect to deprive God of something only He is worthy to receive." (p. 32)

"As sinfully and culturally defined, pursuing greatness looks like this: Individuals motivated by self-interest, slef-indulgence, and a false sense of self-sufficiency pursue selfish ambition for the purpose of self-glorification.
Contrast that with the pursuit of true greatness as biblically defined: Serving others for the glory of God. This is the genuine expression of humility; this is true greatness as the Savior defined it." (p. 44)

"Ultimately our Christian service exists only to draw attention to this source - to our crucified and risen Lord who gave Himselfas a ransom for us all." (p. 48)

"The cross never flatters us. [John] Stott also wrote, 'Far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness, and we can stand before it only with a bowed head and a broken spirit.'" (p. 68)

"In his excellent book Spiritual Depression, Martyn Lloyd-Jones asked, 'Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself?' That's profound, and it's true." (p. 69)

"I have to remember that whenever I fell buried under care, the real issue is pride and my self-sufficiency. I must deliberately and specifically cast my cares upon Him thereby humble myself...The issue isn't God. It's my pride that resists trusting in Him throught dependence upon Him." (p. 76)

"Are you frequently critical of others? Do you look at those around you only to find one blemish after another? This proud tendency is a deeply rooted habit many of us who have sown sees of self-exaltation over the years." (p. 97-98)

"Paul, in his humility, saw the Corinthians from a divine perspective, and he allowed this perspective to determine his attitude toward them. And let me say by the authority of God's Word that you and I must hold this same perspecitve toward the believers around us." (p. 100)

"Look anywhere and you'll see evidences of God's activity, evidences of grace. What a joy and privilege it is to discern this activity in the lives of those we love and care for - and to draw their attention to how God is at work in their lives." (p. 101)

"God is at work. We motivate others by grace when we help them to see this, and one of the greatest joys we can experience is when we watch them come to that awareness." (p. 104)

"Only with an appreciation for the evidences of grace in the lives of others can we ever be truly effective in helping bring about adjustment and growth - in our families, in our churches, and in the lives of every believer we interact with. Only with this divine perspective can we experience faith for the change, as well as perseverance for the process." (p. 106)

"But any correction will not be effective unless you approach it with a divine perspective of those you're correcting, because your heart won't be filled with affection for them or with a fresh faith for change on their behalf. And they'll be sure to sense that lack in your heart." (p. 109)

"Truly edifying words are words that reveal the character and the promises and the activity of God. The'yre cross-centered words." (p. 114)

"Appropriate and timely words that edify will very often include words that exhort, words that help others guard against sin. And we're to speak this way every day. It's to be continual, not occasional - because sin is active continually, not occasionally.
"As we do, we're first and foremost guarding the authority and the primacy of God's Word. That's a description of biblical accountability." (p. 116)

"The biblical purpose for every conversation you have, in every personal interaction, is that the person who hears you will receive grace." (p. 118)

There are many more passages I could cite, but I'll stop here. I hope you'll read the book.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Da Vinci Perspectives

Some resources for you on the Da Vinci Code:

Al Mohler gave THIS MESSAGE at Covenant Life Church on the historicity of the claims made by Dan Brown in the Da Vinci Code.

Tim Challies offered an interesting perspective on the whole matter HERE.

Erwin Lutzer wrote THIS REFUTATION, which includes a studyguide, back when the Da Vinci Code was first published in book form.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Free Book

I'll send a free copy of John MacArthur's book Hard to Believe: the High Cost and Infinite Value of Following Jesus to the first person who comments on one of the blog entries below. After you comment there, enter a comment on this entry to let me know you've done it. Just write something like "The book is mine!"

I know I have readers because I have a site meter, but I'd like to see my readers begin to interact with one another in the comments section. This is an attempt (a bribe?) to get the ball rolling.

You can read a review of the book by clicking HERE.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Church History from the Civil War to the Present

Since Together for the Gospel, there's been a lot of talk over at Paleoevangelical about whether, and in what sense, the T4G gang acknowledge a biblical mandate to separate from disobedient Christians. This article by Al Mohler, cited in this post, gives us a glimpse into the T4G understanding of this issue.

I think my Fundamentalist friends are asking and saying this: "Are these guys REALLY neo-evangelicals? Because they don't sound like it. They're openly critical of evangelicalism and eager to contend for doctrinal purity, teach personal holiness and separation from worldliness, and they're committed to establishing and recovering biblical local churches. I like these guys - a lot!"

But at the same time they're wanting some evidence that the T4G guys have each parted ways with their neo-evangelical forerunners in some OFFICIAL way, or that they're now self-consciously opposed to the neo-evangelical philosophy of engagement.

I don't think they're going to find what they want. Why? One possible reason can be found in THIS TALK given by Mark Dever.

The reason is this: they don't think it's necessary to disassociate themselves from neo-evangelicalism because neo-evangelicalism belongs to the past. Neo-evangelicalism, at least in Dever's mind, was the movement against Neo-orthodoxy.

Give it a listen and let me know what you think.

Unity, God, and You, part 2

By Paul Alexander, IX Marks Ministries

Jesus shows us by example in John 17 that unity takes prayer. We simply can’t expect to enjoy unity if we aren’t praying for it! If Jesus had to pray for it, then surely we must do the same. Friend, when was the last time you prayed for the unity of your church? I’d challenge you to make that a daily prayer request. Pray that your church might be unified, and pray that God would reveal to you how you can better promote unity among your local church by how you think, speak, feel, and react. We can all grow in this area. All of us struggle with feeling bitter towards others sometimes, or reacting with sharp words, or being overly critical, or complaining, or being too prideful to admit we’re wrong. We’re all sinners in need of grace, mercy, and forgiveness – both from God and from each other.

But we are not our own. We do not just represent ourselves, or our own opinions and desires. Jesus has purchased us at the cost of His own blood. We are His. He owns us. He has created us for His glory, and He has bought us with His blood so that we might represent Him well in the world. Let’s resolve together to glorify God in our local churches by speaking, feeling, thinking, and acting in ways that promote the unity of the church; and let’s pray that as we do, God would be pleased to make our unity an effective tool for the conversion of unbelievers.


Unity, God, and You, part 1

By Paul Alexander, IX Marks Ministries

I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that You sent me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as you have loved Me… (John 17:20-23).

Jesus has prayed for the unity of His church – and thankfully, He is still praying! One of His earnest prayers and desires for any local church is that it be unified. Of course, we would all agree that we want to be one. But why does Jesus want us to be united? What is Jesus’ motive in seeking the unity of the local church? Is it just for our benefit? According to John 17, Jesus prays for our unity because the unity of our local church is designed to reflect the unity that God enjoys among the different persons in the Trinity. He wants us, a diverse body of believers, to be one, even as He, a diverse Tri-unity, is one. Jesus is the head of the church, and He intends us to display and enjoy a kind of unity that says true and beautiful things about the unity of our three-in-one God. This is in large part how Jesus wants our local churches to represent God – and we can’t avoid representing Him. If we’re part of a church, then we are part of Christ’s body. Our church is either saying true things about the unity of the Godhead, or we are misrepresenting God as somehow divided within Himself.

We all contribute to either a spirit of unity or of division. Our behavior, our words, our priorities, our attitudes, our emotional responses, even our thoughts and motives, all contribute to our church’s representation of God’s unity. What a convicting thought! Every time I react in anger or sinful frustration, every time I respond with sarcasm in my words or harbor bitterness in my heart, every time I gossip, every time I am motivated by selfishness or pride, I’m not just affecting my own testimony. I’m affecting the unity and testimony of the church, which directly affects the testimony of God Himself. The same is true in marriage. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Christ and His church (Eph 5:22-29). My love for my wife is designed to reflect the nourishing, cherishing, self-sacrificing love of Christ for His church. So whether I want to admit it or not, all of my behavior, thoughts, attitudes, affections, words, motives, and reactions towards my wife are saying something about Christ’s relationship with the church. I’m either saying something true, or something false. And each time I sin against my wife in any one of those ways, I’ve said something false about how Christ loves and treats His precious Bride. When we are united as a local church, we are saying true things about the relationships among the Father, Son, and Spirit. When we think, feel, act, and react in ways that promote oneness, we say true things about the oneness of God.

And according to Jesus, the unity of our churches is also the best evangelistic tool we have. He wants us to be "perfected [or mature] in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as you have loved me." God has designed unity in the local church to function like a magnet to attract both believers and unbelievers. When we are united as a local church, our relationships with one another begin to speak volumes to a watching world. The love and selflessness and humility and patience that characterize united relationships begin to tell the world that God sent Jesus, and that God loves us, His Bride. Conversely, when we allow petty divisions to prevail among us, we become evangelistically ineffective because the corporate testimony of our church is saying false things about God. The unity of the local church is God’s evangelism program. If we want to see the Holy Spirit use our local churches to produce converts, then we must all work hard and work together to promote and preserve unity in our church.