Pride in the Parking Lot

On a bright Saturday morning in the spring, I drove to the grocery story to pick up a few items. The day was full of promise.

We were enjoying a weekend visit from my wife’s parents. After gathering some supplies for the homestead, I planned to work for a few hours at the office and then enjoy the afternoon and evening with my family and in-laws.

When I tried to leave the grocery store parking lot, the car gave only a mild attempt at starting. It was as though I had tried to rouse the car after a late-night rager; it acknowledged my presence, turned over once, then retreated under the covers. We both knew it wasn’t getting out of bed any time soon.

Waiting

While I waited for my wife and mother-in-law, I tried to start the car several more times. I’ve dealt with a dead car battery before, but these noises sounded different. With no particular automotive expertise, I decided there must be a problem with the starter, not the battery. When my mother-in-law suggested that we try to jump start the car, I brushed the idea aside, convinced my diagnosis was sound.

AAA assured me a tow truck would be there within the hour. That seemed reasonable. I read a book with the car windows down, enjoying the parking lot bouquet of carbon monoxide[1] and warming asphalt. Soon one hour turned into three. A tow truck driver finally arrived and I offered my expert opinion about the faulty starter. He proposed we try to jump the car anyway. Given his profession (not to mention his muscles and tattoos), this was no proposal—it was the plan. But I was sure this attempt would fail.

Immediately, powerfully, triumphantly, the car started. Like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber. I could not have been more wrong.

This kind driver obviously dealt with proud idiots of my caliber on a regular basis. He smiled, shook my hand, and instructed me to drive directly to the auto parts store. I replaced the battery and returned home five or six hours after departing.

Lessons About Pride

God has convicted me of pride before (and I’ve written about pride once or twice), but this was a technicolor example. Here are some lessons I hope to learn about noticing and combating pride.

  1. Be careful of insisting that you are right. — This boils down to the fundamental Biblical command that we should not think too highly of ourselves. This applies when we are experts in a field. It certainly applies when we are not.
  2. Be willing to listen to others. — Had I listened to my dear mother-in-law I would have saved a lot of time that Saturday. And who was I to scoff at the expertise of the tow truck driver? We cannot and will not listen to others unless we are humble, unless we believe that we need other people. (This is a good thing to believe, because God says it is true.) Hear ye the proverb: “When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).
  3. Beware the trap of the stubbornness of pride. — Pride seemes to brings with it a certain isolating stubbornness. As I sat in the parking lot, I was not only full of complaints but I was also strangely smug. There is a wicked satisfaction in being the only one in the world who is right, with all arrayed in splendor against you. In the grip of pride, I can actually enjoy this isolation. I head into a self-congratulatory cycle with my ears closed to outside voices.

We can combat pride by growing in humility, thinking accurately about ourselves and our God. I recommend a heaping dose of the Bible (just about anywhere will do, but Job 38–41 is a fine place to start) along with relationships with people who will be honest with you.

[1] I know this is odorless, just go with me.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-02-03)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

God Doesn’t Need Your Singing, but Your Neighbor Does

This article points to all the people who will benefit from your singing in worship.

Although God commands Christians to sing, he doesn’t need our singing in order to be God. He has an eternal choir of living creatures that never cease to sing his praise (Rev. 4:8). And yet he’s designed us to experience joy—and encouragement—when we lift our voices in praise. Though we often conceive of corporate worship vertically, there’s a rich horizontal dimension too. Your neighbors need your church’s singing.

The Other Lord’s Prayer

Here’s a helpful comparison between the Lord’s Prayer as recorded in Matthew and Luke.

Before we comment on a handful of unique features of the Lord’s Prayer in Luke, we will first examine one common, salient denominator between the two presentations of the Lord’s Prayer (a point I expand upon further in my Handbook on the Gospels). Both evangelists underscore the name “Father” at the beginning of the prayer (Matthew 6:9; Luke 11:2).

Ashamed Sinner, Unashamed Savior

How does God look at us when we sin? This article dives deep into that important question.

So what we end up having is a vantage point where we’re looking at the way that we think about our sin and the way that we feel about us and our guilt, and we project that upon God. And what’s so amazing about the gospel and the reality of being a Christian is that that’s not helpful, because God has gone through great pains to prove to us that’s actually not how he looks at his people.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-01-27)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

Leave the Throne of Guilt

Scotty Smith shares his experience of learning how to pray not because he felt guilty, but because he delighted in the triune God. Union with Christ was the key to unlock his prayer life.

As a young believer in the late sixties, the joy of my new life in Christ was palpable and plenteous. But pretty soon, I started to feel the pressure of a new burden to “get it right.” I had consistent quiet times, underlined verses in my Bible (in three different colors), and engaged in Scripture memory. I fellowshipped, witnessed, and prayed. Unfortunately, these crucial spiritual disciplines functioned more as a means of guilt (or pride) than as a means of grace. Many of God’s good gifts are misused and disused until they become rightly used. This is certainly true of prayer.

Expose Your Kids to Hard Truths

Here’s an essay urging us not to shy away from some of the “grittier” parts of Scripture with our children.

Continually discussing the beauty and hard realities of Scripture will help children love truth and the God who embodies it. And it’ll give them a discerning ear when engaging culture apart from the watchful eye of their parents. We have the opportunity to demonstrate that the Christian faith is rational, understandable, and more beautiful than the culture that will fight hard to persuade our children otherwise.

How to Think about God Promoting His Own Glory

If we evaluate God’s purposes and actions through the grid of what would be righteous for a human, we’re bound to go wrong. This article calls us to remember how different from us God is when we think about his focus on his glory.

So now we come to the issue of God promoting his own glory. The same principle applies to God doing things “for the sake of his name” and “for his glory” and requiring people to worship him. If you are troubled by the thought of this, consider the possibility that you are imagining how you would respond to a human being who did this—a fallen, sinful human being who did not deserve your worship. That is not who God is. And so, in order to understand God rightly, we need to adjust our interpretation of his actions in light of his moral perfection, not judge him as if he were also a fallen human being with a dangerously inflated ego.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called A Primer on Encouragement. If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

A Primer on Encouragement

After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. (Acts 20:1,2 ESV)

When studying this passage in Sunday school this spring, we had to address the question, “What is encouragement?” “Encouragement” is one of those Christian-y words that can bring a soft, Precious Moments haze to our thinking. We often use it as a replacement for “feeling good.” I was encouraged to know you were thinking about me when my father was in the hospital. But is that what this word really means?

What is Encouragement?

If we are to interpret Acts 20 correctly, we need to learn what “encourage/encouragement” means. Additionally, since we are charged with “encourag[ing] one another” as a Biblical imperative (1 Thess 5:11), this is not only a matter of interpretation, but obedience.

A quick Bible search will help. Frequently the words translated “encourage” are used in parallel with other words or phrases which mean “to strengthen” or “to build up.” This can be seen in 1 Thess 5:11, Deut 3:28, Acts 15:32, and 1 Cor 14:3. There is also a note on 1 Cor 8:10 in the ESV that indicates “fortified” or “built up” is an appropriate way to translate this word. We should further consider the meaning of the English word “encourage,” since translations from Hebrew and Greek take this definition into account: this dictionary suggests that “encourage” means “to inspire with courage, spirit, or confidence,” “to stimulate by assistance,” or “to promote, advance, or foster.” “Embolden” and “hearten” are listed as synonyms for “encourage.”

How to Give Encouragement

How are you strengthened? How are you built up? It may give you a warm feeling to know that someone is thinking of you or missing you, but does that really strengthen you? Does that equip you for the challenges and tasks that lie ahead of you? How are you emboldened or heartened in your Christian walk?

Before offering some practical suggestions on encouragement, let me make one appeal. Encouragement is individual. Though there are some activities or approaches that apply broadly, the work of encouragement within a local church must be preceded by the work of getting to know your neighbor. While a preacher or leader can encourage a congregation from the front of the sanctuary, encouragement is more meaningful and effective on a smaller scale. If you know how your friend is wired and you are aware of his or her particular struggles, you will be much more effective in your encouragement.

With that said, here are four ways to encourage a brother or sister in Christ.

Speak Gospel Words

Often the most encouraging action is a loving reminder of the gospel. When we are lonely, dejected, or mourning, we need to be reminded of God’s faithful, unconditional love. When our lives seem overrun with disappointment and failure, sorrow and sadness, we need to hear again of our great savior, Jesus and his work on our behalf. We must be careful not to bring the gospel to our believing friends in a trite, little-orphan-Annie sort of way. (“The sun will come out tomorrow, bet your bottom dollar!”) But if our speech is seasoned with salt and we are frequently conversing about the things of God, reminding a friend about what is true will be natural, loving, and encouraging. Remember, the enemy of our souls wants us to forget this great truth in favor of believing his lies. We will fight against Satan and the darkness within by speaking the truth in love to one another.

Pray

This is one of the ways I have felt the most genuine encouragement over the years. A friend who is praying for me is doing far more than merely thinking of me—he is lifting my concerns up before the God of the universe. And, in his mysterious way, this is how God carries out his plan. How emboldening it is to know that someone is asking the only one who has ultimate power to work on my behalf, pleading that his will be done!

Prayer by itself will encourage, because God really does hear, provide strength, and work. But telling a brother about your prayers for him can accomplish much within his heart.

Identify God’s Work

When you feel trapped in a stubborn sin pattern, you might despair of God’s grace. You might believe the lie that you are not growing, and maybe you’re not God’s child at all. Enter a friend. With a bit of distance from your struggle, he can remind you how much growth God has given you in the last year or six months. What an encouragement it is to know that God has not abandoned me over a long period of time, and that he is at work in me! And if God has been at work in me over the past year, and if his word says he is committed to me, why wouldn’t he continue to work in my life? In my experience, the more specific you can be here, the better.

Give Practical Help

In the way that an archer is emboldened to stand and fire his arrows if he does not also have to hoist his shield, so we can strengthen our friends for good works by shouldering some special or everyday burdens for them. By babysitting you may free a couple to strengthen their marriage on a date; by supplying a meal, you may give that sick mother another crucial hour to rest; by swooping in with a mop, broom, and sponge you may teach that single man some of the skills he needs to make his apartment more inviting for the members of his evangelistic Bible study group. Remember, encouraging is more than doing something nice—this is no mere muffin-delivery service. The goal behind an act of encouragement is to strengthen and build up.

Showing God to Others

In the end, encouragement is one way to image our God to a fellow Christian. We can speak to, work for, and hug our friends in a way that provides a small echo of the earth-shaking ways God has spoken to, worked for, and loved us.

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Links for the Weekend (2023-01-20)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

A Family Vacation, a Broken Transmission, and a God Who Is with Us

This story of the practical (and surprising!) provision of God on a family vacation is wonderful.

It was the second day of our much-anticipated family camping trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. We were a good five-hour drive from home, and our vehicle’s transmission had just completely failed.

I Am Not My Own: How Heidelberg Healed Me

This article provides some background on the Heidelberg Catechism and some meditation on that wonderful first question and answer.

The poignancy of her reply struck me. She had recited the answer to question 1 of the Heidelberg Catechism, a centuries-old doctrinal statement that beautifully captures the central elements of the Christian faith. Over time after this conversation, when the wages of sin encroached upon my own life, I too found myself repeating these words, and thanking the Lord that when our own fallenness overwhelms us, we can rejoice that we belong to the One who laid down his life for us (John 10:11; 1 John 3:16).  

What is covenant theology?

Sinclair Ferguson answers this question in a 5-minute video.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Links for the Weekend (2023-01-13)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

3 Questions to Ask When Anxiety Strikes

Karrie Hahn offers some suggestions on connecting to truth in times of anxious thoughts.

How, then, can we reorient ourselves when anxiety threatens to overwhelm us? While life is more complex and nuanced than offering easy steps to get from here to there, asking myself three questions has proven helpful.

I Want Him Back (But Not The Old Me Back)

I’ve linked to Tim Challies several times as he’s written about grief and his son’s sudden death. Here’s another article on that topic I found helpful. He writes about missing his son desperately but being grateful for the growth he’s seen in himself because of the loss.

And, indeed, as we look back at our own lives, we often see evidence of the ways God has worked in us through our hardest times. We see how it was when a loved one was taken from our side that we truly grew closer to the Lord, how it was when our wealth disappeared that we came to treasure God more fully, how it was when our bodies weakened that our reliance upon God grew. We see that God really does purify us through the fire, that he really does strengthen us in our weaknesses, that he really does sanctify us through our sorrows. Though we do not emerge from our trials unscathed, we still emerge from them better and holier and closer to him. Though we wish we did not experience such sorrows, we are thankful to have learned what we have learned and to have grown in the ways we have grown.

Grieving a Childhood Friend

Here’s another article on the topic of grief, but from a different angle. This author writes about losing a friend from childhood, someone who had moved away but gotten back in touch. This is a lovely bit of writing.

Then there is the grief that comes on like a freight train, approaching from far off with increasing dread to wallop you with unexpected fury: the diagnosis and decline that is met with no familiar scripts or cliches, but uncomprehending emptiness. In three months last year I got to taste each of these types of grief, but the one that most unnerved me – that seemed most unnatural and the hardest to explain – was the death of one of those kids who had sat next to me in the bleachers.

On the WPCA Blog This Week

This week on the blog we published an article I wrote called Do You Need More Self-Control? If you haven’t already seen it, check it out!


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here. 

Do You Need More Self-Control?

Self-control is one fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:23) that we don’t often discuss. But the apostle Paul didn’t have our hesitations. He writes about this virtue all over the New Testament, most frequently in his letter to Titus. In that little book, we learn the following about self-control.

  • The elders Titus appoints must be self-controlled (Titus 1:8).
  • Older men are to be self-controlled (Titus 2:2).
  • Older women are to train the young women to be self-controlled (Titus 2:5).
  • Titus must urge the younger men to be self-controlled (Titus 2:6).
  • The grace of God has brought salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and to live self-controlled lives (Titus 2:12).

So, no one is exempt. We all must be self-controlled.

But what exactly does that mean?

We may think of the self-controlled as monks or nuns, strict ascetics who squash every stray desire and distraction. Creating this caricature lets us write self-control off as something out of reach, only available to (or expected of) the elite few. We justify not understanding or growing in self-control since we don’t feel very elite. (I’m writing of my experience here, but maybe—just maybe—there are others like me!)

Self-Control Fundamentals

Drew Dyck set out to help us with self-control, not as an expert but as someone badly in need of that virtue himself. I found his book Your Future Self Will Thank You really helpful in understanding this elusive fruit of the Spirit.

Dyck describes self-control as a foundational character trait in the sense that other traits are built on top of it. Self-control makes acquiring other virtues easier. After exploring some of the Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible which are translated as “self-control” (or a synonym), Dyck arrives at a working definition: “Self-control is the ability to do the right thing, even when you don’t feel like it.”

Like all fruit of the Spirit, the purpose of self-control is to glorify God, not ourselves. Biblical self-control is not primarily about keeping our lives or bodies neat and ordered—rather, it is about keeping our loves rightly ordered and in the proper proportion.

Willpower and Habit

Many of our friends and neighbors might equate self-control with willpower. Drew Dyck says there is an overlap, but that they aren’t the same.

Willpower is needed for self-control but for other activites too: learning new tasks, making decisions, and persevering in difficult circumstances. One of the most helpful images for me in the book is the idea of willpower as a muscle. We all have different innate levels of willpower, but willpower is something that can be built and exercised.

Willpower can be depleted through use as well as through sleep deprivation, poor nutrition, and frequent distraction. This explains why it becomes harder to resist the donuts in the break room each time we pass by! (Interestingly, Dyck suggests this is why we’re urged in the Bible to flee temptation more than to fight temptation.)

There is a vital connection between self-control and our habits as well. Since habits do not take willpower to complete—the automatic nature of habits are their defining feature—wise and thoughtful building of good habits is one of the best ways to grow in self-control. So self-control is not always about in-the-moment impulse control, but it can involve and necessitate advanced planning. (If we know there will be donuts in the break room on Friday, we can plan ahead to resist them.)

Since habits require willpower to create but not to execute, Dyck suggests that one of the best uses of our willpower is to create good habits. Chapter 6 describes some of the psychological research on habit formation and how Christians might take advantage of these advances. (Two excellent books I’ve read on habits are The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg and Atomic Habits, by James Clear. I recommend them both!)

A Helpful Guide

Drew Dyck is a good guide for the journey of self-control. The book is well-researched without being academic. Interleaved through the book are Dyck’s reflections on his own efforts to grow—some of these are successful and some are (humorously) not.

Dyck writes with an inviting, winsome style. His book is the first place I’d point if you want to learn more about self-control.

Links for the Weekend (2023-01-06)

Each Friday, I’ll post links to 3–5 resources from around the web you may want to check out.

What Not to Expect from New Year’s Resolutions

There are some helpful and sobering truths in this post about New Year’s resolutions.

While nothing is wrong with celebrating progress, these juxtaposed images can influence us in subtle ways. A steady diet of before-and-after pictures can slowly skew our expectations and perspective on reality. They whisper lies that can trickle down even into our spiritual lives.

Winning Your Child’s Heart with Winsome Words

This article offers a brief glimpse at the power of our words and how a small change in our intentions can have a big effect.

My years as a parent have helped me understand that my words do more than guide my children through their day. They shape how they think about themselves, other people, and how the world works. Most importantly, my words are one way my children learn about the gospel.  

Encouraging in a distinctively Christian way

Encouragement is not the same as a compliment, nor is it gratitude. This article looks at 1 Thessalonians to get a grip on encouragement from the Bible.

Christian encouragement has gospel content rather than simply nice platitudes. For example, if someone is grieving a loss, the best many people can offer is to say that they are “sorry for your loss”. Some well-meaning people saying things like “they are looking down on you” or something like that. Yet if we are a Christian trying to comfort and encourage a grieving brother or sister in Christ, we can say so much more than this. We can speak of the comfort we have in Jesus. We can speak of our future hope with no more crying or mourning or pain. In other words, we can point people to Jesus, not just express empathy to them.


Note: Washington Presbyterian Church and the editors of this blog do not necessarily endorse all content produced by the individuals or groups referenced here.