PB will be take a short break for a couple weeks, but will return in time for Advent. Happy Thanksgiving!
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November 13th, 2014
Worm or wonder? The quote I referenced last Sunday from medieval theologian Thomas A Kempis came from an essay by Morgan Guyton who recently found himself in something of a conundrum. While reading the venerable Kempis at the same time he’d been perusing the musings of Henri Nouwen, Guyton wondered: given what we know of God, how should we fundamentally regard ourselves? Is it best that we despise ourselves for our incorrigible proclivity to sin? Or are we better served by focusing on our irrevocable dignity that derives from being fashioned in the image of God?
Our argument from Paul’s words Sunday was that the gospel means to effect a regime-change of the self. Our deep inclination toward conceit must be displaced by a heart that has God at its center.
So which of the two self-conceptions are most apt to see conceit overthrown in us?
In the Kempis quote I lifted from his essay, Guyton finds reason to be highly suspicious of oneself
This is the most important and salutary lesson: to know and despise ourselves. It is great wisdom and perfection to consider ourselves as nothing and always to judge well and highly of others. If you should see someone commit a sin or some grievous wrong, do not think of yourself as someone better, for you know not how long you will remain in your good state. We are all frail, but think of yourself as one who is more frail than others.
Our penchant for condemnation of another’s errors belies a blindness to our own propensity for the same that only a more self-deprecating posture can dispel. Though His words are often twisted to mean quite the opposite of His intention, Jesus’ admonition to “judge not, lest ye, too be judged” insists upon a presupposed suspicion of the self. Only with eyes disabused of one’s own superiority can one see with clarity and compassion what sirens captivate the other.
But does that looking askance at oneself deny something majestic about who we are, and what we are capable of? And if we don’t acknowledge that inherent remarkableness are we in effect torpedoing our chance of ever becoming fully human? Guyton cites Nouwen’s concern
Self-rejection is the greatest enemy of the spiritual life because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us God’s beloved. . . How do I discern the voice that says “Be humble” from the one that says “You’re nothing”? Humility has nothing to do with self-rejection. You can only be humble if you have a deep self-respect. Self-rejection cannot form the basis of a humble life. It leads only to complaints, jealousy, anger, and even violence.
Unqualified self-loathing cultivates an inner dourness that inevitably spills over into every domain and relationship. It evacuates the heart of hope, and may even be an insidious form of self-absorption and self-promotion as it deploys one’s alleged worthlessness as an excuse for passivity or to garner sympathy. Appealing to Jesus again for insight, when the prostitute anoints his feet while the Pharisees look on scandalized, Jesus does not add to the pile-on of derision but rather exalts not just her contrition but her. Everyone else in that room would deny her of dignity. Jesus instead upholds, affirms, and celebrates it.
So, again, which posture toward the self best fits the data?
The Reformed doctrine of total depravity might lead one to gravitate toward Kempis’ more dubious view of the self. That doctrine teaches not that we manifest the fullness of evil but that there is no part of us untouched by the proclivity to sin.
But any single doctrine must be understood in context of the rest. Our instinctive repudiation of God’s authority—the serpent’s dismissive question “did God say?” writ large in and through us in innumerable ways—necessitates an exclusive act of God to restore the estrangement. Only His electing, atoning, irresistible, and persevering grace can account for the reconciliation. So while disgust at our intransigence fits the data of God’s account, something more than pity accounts for his pardon—something like love. And if such love derives from something other than our works, then it must be grounded in something essential to us. Which means that we must be worms whom He nevertheless considers a wonder.
The cross of Jesus holds those two conceptions of the self in delicate balance, and enjoins us to do likewise. Self-suspicion and self-regard are both healthy and holy postures, each protecting us from exaggerations that lead either to despondency or arrogance.
Those in Christ when they sin are still loved.
The mark of Christ’s love in a believer is their coming to loathe the sin that may entangle them.
In that balance is where we find not just doctrinal coherence, but life–which is where Paul will end his letter and we our series this Sunday.
Galatians 6:6-18 is our passage. It speaks of life and death–that life is a fight to the deaths. Yes, multiple deaths. The life to which He calls rests on deaths that must occur–and only by intervention from one who comes alongside.
For this purpose He came down, was born, lived among men, suffered, was crucified, and died, so that in every possible way He might present Himself to our sight. He wanted us to fix the gaze of our hearts upon Himself and thus to prevent us from clambering into heaven and speculating about the Divine Majesty. (Martin Luther)
For all the avarice this season tends to encourage, it nevertheless surfaces a serviceable and resonant theme: expectation. The act of waiting, hoping, looking forward–these are inclinations of the heart that buoy us, enable us to endure the present moment.
This Advent we want to ask the simple question: why did it matter that God became man? So our sermon series is entitled: In the flesh–why the Incarnation matters.
New to our season this year are two additional services. On Wednesday December 3 we’ll gather at FBC for a “Blue Christmas” liturgy. It will be a time to remember those we’ve lost, or to incline toward hope if sorrow is our food–in this season when it feels as if mirth is almost mandated. We’ll also gather on Christmas Eve to renew our joy. More details to follow.
You can see the whole Advent calendar by clicking here.
During November we’ve asked you to consider contributing over and above your regular giving to a matching grant fund CtK has established to help underwrite expenses for foreign nationals who cannot afford to attend next year’s conference on Global Consultation in Music and Missions.
If you’d like to contribute, please make checks out to CtK, with the notation “GCOMM” in the memo line.
Our favorite Northern Irishman John Browne and his wife Betsy faithfully served CtK for nearly a year while it searched for a pastor. Now John is embarking on a new call with the Disaster Response division of the PCA’s Mission to North America.
The Session of CtK has elected to contribute to the support he needs to begin this new work as a Response Coordinator, details of which you can read more of here.
John will join us this Sunday during Q&A to share more about that new work.
Community Quick Hits:
- Ladies, don’t forget the women’s gathering at the Holzwarth’s this Saturday, November 15th.
- Our cutoff for collecting for the Women’s Shelter in Duncanville is this Sunday. Have a look here for more details about what’s needed and where you can bring it.
What you can pray for
- for His Spirit to help us keep that delicate balance of self-suspicion and self-regard
- for Dave Farah who had gall bladder surgery earlier today
- for Calvin and Katie Pitts, proud parents of their firstborn son, Foster, last Friday
- for our Community Groups, both present and future