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Following Nabeel's Lead

    In today’s sermon we’re going to hear a bit about the testimony of Nabeel Qureshi, a man who converted from Islam to become a follower of Christ. The process was long and painful, but as he persistently studied the evidence for each belief, he came to the conclusion that Jesus was indeed the Son of God who died and rose again. As you would expect, this completely changed his life, but it also forever changed how he saw others. Listen to the moment when he first saw someone in a new light; perhaps it will help us to see people the same way. He said:

Then I saw something that I had seen countless times before; a man walking down the sidewalk toward the medical school.
       
But that was not all I saw. Though I had no idea who this man was, I knew he had a dramatic story, replete with personal struggles, broken relationships, and splintered self-worth. Taught by the world that he was an outcome of blind evolution, he subconsciously valued himself as exactly that: a byproduct of random chance, with no purpose, no hope, no meaning except what pleasure he could extract out of the day. Chasing these pleasures resulted in guilt and pain, which caused him to chase more pleasure, which led to more guilt and more pain. Burying it all just beneath the surface, he went about his day with no clue how to break the cycle, hoe to find true hope.
    What I saw was a man who needed to know that God could rescue him, that God had rescued him. This man needed to know about God and His power.
    Did he know? Did he know that God loved him from the foundation of the earth? With a power far exceeding the immensity of the cosmos, He turned all His attention to creating that man and declared, “You are My child. I love you.”
    Did he know that God made him exactly how He wanted, knowing each hair on his head and each second of his life? God knew full well that the hands He gave to this man would be used to sin against Him, that the feet He gave to this man would be used to walk away from Him. Yet, instead of withholding these gifts, He gave him the most precious gift of all: His own Son.
    Did he know that God entered into this world, to suffer in his stead? Received with slaps and fits by the very people He came to save, He was scourged until His skin fell off in ribbons, only to be pierced through both arms and feet, nailed naked on wood for all to ridicule? He scraped His skinless back on splintered wood with each rasping breath, His last breath finishing the task of rescuing us, securing our eternity with Him.
     
Did he know? Of course not. We have to tell him.
     
While I was wallowing in self-pity, focused on myself, there was a whole world with literally billions of people who had no idea who God is, how amazing He is, and the wonders He has done for us. They are the ones who are really suffering. They don’t know His hope, His peace, and His love that transcends all understanding. They don’t know the message of the gospel.
    After loving us with the most humble life and the most horrific death, Jesus told us, “As I have loved you, go and love one another. “How could I consider myself a follower of Jesus if I was not willing to live as He lived. To die as He die? To love the unloved and give hope to the hopeless?
     
This is not about me. It is about Him and His love for His children.
     Now I knew what it meant to follow God. It meant walking boldly by His Spirit of grace and love, in the firm confidence of everlasting life given through the Son, with the eternal purpose of proclaiming and glorifying the Father.
     
Now I had found Jesus.


 

Enjoying Life

        In last week’s sermon we spent a lot of time looking at the rather enigmatic verse in Ecclesiastes 7 which says, “Be not overly righteous, and do not make yourself too wise. Why should you destroy yourself?” (v. 16) We talked about how many people are tempted to stress and fret over whether they are being righteous enough, and this often leads to making up really righteous sounding rules for ourselves that end up making us miserable.
       Some of you understand this all too well. You can’t enjoy a good thing because you’re worried it’s not the best thing. You’re trying to be overly righteous. If this is you, let me submit to you a five-step plan to help you enjoy life.

 
  1. Glory in the grace of God that is yours through faith in Christ. When we attempt to be “overly righteous” we unwittingly show that our faith in God’s grace is underdeveloped. We might sing songs in church proclaiming that we are forgiven and we might talk in Bible studies about how Jesus washes us clean of sin, but our obsession with perfection reveals that we are still trying to earn the love of God, others, and ourselves. But rather than destroy ourselves with guilt we are to glory in the gift of grace that God extended to us “apart from works (Ephesians 2:9) and “while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). Sing hymns, memorize Bible verses, do anything and everything that will remind you to celebrate that God simply loves you because he loves you. It’s not for what you do or how well you do it. It’s grace.
  2. Pray for the power to enjoy the gifts God has given you. As we saw a couple weeks ago, Solomon says the worst thing imaginable is to have gifts from God but no power to enjoy them (6:2). God wants you to enjoy the gifts he’s given you. He doesn’t want you to worship them or put too much stock in them, but he does want you to enjoy them. So pray for his power to enjoy what you have. Pray that he will make you content.
  3. Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. Even if it might not be the best possible use of your time, prepare yourself to enjoy good things for what they are, and don’t overthink life. Everything needs to be done in moderation of course; however, more often than not, give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. If you don’t you will probably destroy yourself with anxiety, guilt, and inadequacy.
  4. Enjoy yourself. Laugh, eat, dance, sing, run, create, talk…enjoy the activities and work that God has given you. As Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 5:19, “Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God.” If we were to make this an equation it would say good things + contentment + good work = enjoyment of life. Enjoy the good things for what they are: gifts from God.
  5. Thank God for your enjoyment. When you’re done enjoying it, thank God for it. James 1:17 says, “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above.” Every good thing you have, even the everyday gifts—which may not maximize your righteousness—are a gift from above. So thank him for giving you the gift and for giving you the power to enjoy that gift.

So for those of you who are recovering perfectionists, I hope this helps you enjoy life a little more.
 

Thinking About Money

       Last week we studied what Solomon had to say about money in Ecclesiastes 5:8-20. As I was studying up on this topic, I came across an article in which Ivan Mesa interviews Ron Blue, author of over 20 books on biblical financial planning. Here’s what he had to say:
 
You often say money is a “revealer of the heart” and “entry into the heart.” How so?
       I like to use the analogy of a window and a door here. When I say money is a revealer of the heart, I mean it acts as a window that we can look through to see the deepest desires of our hearts. Likewise, when I say money is an entry into the heart, I mean it acts as a door that, when opened, releases our hearts to find freedom, contentment, and joy in our finances….
       I often tell people that if you show me your checkbook, I can show you your priorities. This is the window. If we take the next step and allow God’s Word to shape our priorities and enter our hearts, we can actually move our hearts to treasure new things. Changing the flow of our money will change the attention and loves of our hearts.
 
Why is it hard for Christians to think of financial stewardship as an aspect of discipleship?
       Many Christians want to separate any discussion of money from their spiritual lives…. But this mentality arises from a failure to understand that all that we have is God’s, including our money. Psalm 24:1 says, “The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” If everything we have is God’s, then we are stewards of his money (not ours) and we’ll have to give an account to him of how we used it.
 
How can Christians save for the future while also trying to increase their giving?
       Priorities. The only way to increase giving and to save for the future is by establishing priorities. To set priorities, we must understand there are really only four ways we can spend our money. I call them: “Live, Give, Owe, Grow.” Most people begin by allocating their money to the “Owe” category by paying off debt and taxes, then they move to the “Live” category and spend on their lifestyle. Finally, if there’s anything left over, they look at “Give” and “Grow” (giving and saving). On the other hand, the Bible tells us that the most productive uses of our money are “Give” and “Grow,” the required uses of money are the debt and taxes of “Owe,” and only after these are taken care of should the “Live” category be considered. 
       There’s no financial silver bullet. The only silver bullet around is creating and then maintaining a financial habit or discipline, motivated by financial goals and priorities. Begin by prayerfully asking the question, “Lord, what would you have me do in my financial life?” 
 
What’s the most important thing pastors should teach their churches about finances?
       Teach them what Paul said in the greatest support letter ever written: “I seek not what is yours but you” (2 Cor. 12:14). Teach them that the reason they need to know what the Bible says about money isn’t merely to meet the needs of the local church, but to become free from the hold money has on their hearts and lives.
       Money is a cruel master. The Bible has much to say about it—more than 2,300 verses are about money, and 16 of Jesus’s 38 parables deal with it. Additionally, much of what is written about money warns of its dangers. Ecclesiastes 5:10 says, “He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income.” Yet despite all of the verses and warnings, most of us tend to believe that if one person can handle the trappings of wealth, it’s us. Well, we can’t.
       The only way I’ve seen people avoid the trappings of wealth is to hold their money with an unflinching open hand. These people are radically generous with their wealth; they know if they’re not, it’ll end up mastering them.
       Churches must teach that the only way to experience true freedom and contentment in finances is to become extravagantly generous just like our Father: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son.” Talk about extravagant giving! Churches should talk about money not because they need it, but because people need freedom from its dangers.
 

Showing Your Life

I really appreciated this article called “How to Show Your Life to a Younger Believer” by Kim Ransleben. In it she reminds us how important it is to model our faith to new believers. She writes,

The first time an older woman invited me to meet with her, I was so grateful. She helped me learn about life as a new Christian. A couple years later she asked if I’d be willing to lead a Bible study for her—I wept that she thought I could. Coming alongside her as she modeled teaching and leading women taught me so much. But what taught me the most was walking with her through the death of her son. As the biblical truths she’d been passing on to me shined through her life, I saw firsthand what it means to walk by faith and not by sight.

Many are familiar with the list of men and women in Hebrews 11, who long ago lived by faith in a God they couldn’t see. They conquered lands and shut the mouths of lions. Some were saved from the sword, and others—by that same, strong faith—died by the sword. Frankly, it’s not a group we’d always want to join. Their failures and struggles are recorded for all to read. But they also give us hope by showing a loving God who perseveres with weak sinners. Mostly, I viewed the heroes of Hebrews 11 from a distance—until the day I encountered Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God.”

Show Your Life: I realized the author is talking about regular people like you and me, who lead and teach others. Perhaps you’re the one leading Bible studies and discipling young believers. Or, maybe you’re at the Little League game next to someone who opens up to you about her marital struggles. Younger believers look to older believers and Hebrews 13:7 provides an important reminder: “Consider the outcome of their life and imitate their faith.”

Those who follow our lead need more than tips and techniques. They are watching our lives. They want to see if we’ve ever faced what’s causing them frustration, or if we too got lost in the chaos of choices for our kids. They struggle with past shame and future fears. And though they have God’s Word as a testimony of those who’ve gone before, they’re wondering if they can believe it for themselves today.

This is where we come into their story. We bridge the gap between long ago and just a few years back. We show them God strengthens his people today just as he did in ancient times. We share specific ways we’ve seen him work in the past. But we also do something more.

Show Your Struggles: We must allow younger believers to see our current struggles, too. This means acknowledging the sinful desires that still wage war against our soul, as well as the fears that threaten to overwhelm us as dreams for tomorrow fade. When we shed tears of grief over loved ones’ choices—yet with a glimmer of hope in our eyes—we demonstrate that walking by faith is a daily reality, not a final destination.

It’d be a lot less risky to show others only the cleaned-up version of our families, to let them think we’ve found the magic formula for successful marriages and ministries to people who never cause us pain. But to do so would prevent them from obeying that simple command: imitate their faith. To do that, they have to see the places where faith is all we have.

Show Your Savior: Ultimately, our lives of faith help the next generation to see that “Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8). The God of Moses still uses broken people and stuttering mouths to reveal his character. Faith is still the substance of things hoped for, and will sustain the church long after we’re gone. The hope for every generation will always be: Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and today and forever.

So open up your lives, older men and women. Show the younger generation that by faith, there’s nothing to fear. Show them how to crawl out of the boat to walk where it would seem foolish, or how to lie down by the Savior’s side and simply ride out the storm. Let them see your todays as well as your yesterdays, so they might trust him through whom all our tomorrows come.


 

Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery

    When I was in Indianapolis for the Gospel Coalition conference a few weeks ago, we sang a new song that I wanted to introduce to the church. So on Palm and Easter Sundays, we sang the song “Come Behold the Wondrous Mystery” written by Matt Boswell, Michael Bleeker, and Matt Papa. Just in case you didn’t catch the richness of the words as we sang together, I wanted to share the lyrics with you once more. These are words about our Lord and Savior that are certainly worth reflecting on in these days after Easter!

VERSE 1
Come behold the wondrous mystery
In the dawning of the King
He the theme of heaven’s praises
Robed in frail humanity

In our longing, in our darkness
Now the light of life has come
Look to Christ, who condescended
Took on flesh to ransom us

VERSE 2

Come behold the wondrous mystery
He the perfect Son of Man
In His living, in His suffering
Never trace nor stain of sin

See the true and better Adam
Come to save the hell-bound man
Christ the great and sure fulfillment
Of the law; in Him we stand

VERSE 3
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Christ the Lord upon the tree
In the stead of ruined sinners
Hangs the Lamb in victory

See the price of our redemption
See the Father’s plan unfold
Bringing many sons to glory
Grace unmeasured, love untold

VERSE 4
Come behold the wondrous mystery
Slain by death the God of life
But no grave could e’er restrain Him
Praise the Lord; He is alive!

What a foretaste of deliverance
How unwavering our hope
Christ in power resurrected
As we will be when he comes


 

Becoming a Contagious Christian

Last week I wrote that I would continue to talk about some things I would change about the book and movie The Shack if I could. But I've decided to go in another direction this week. (If you have an inteest in other critiques of The Shack, I would reccomend searching online for those written by Katherine Jeffrey or Albert Mohler.)

The elders and I are excited to think that a high percentage of Gateway members will be reading, more importantly applying, the book Contagious Christianity. If our whole church is both equipped and energized to share our faith with others, I can only imagine what God will do. Here's a sample of what we'll learn from the book. In this section, the authors are looking at three parables found in Luke 15. Regarding these parables it says:

The shepherd retrieved the sheep and threw a party. The woman found the coin and threw another party. The son came home and the father threw the biggest party of all. And in Luke 5:10 Jesus says, "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

When I read that text for the first time, I thought of my own life. I was a cocky, rebellious, self-willed seventeen year old who thought I knew how to get to heaven by impressing God with my religiosity. But then, through the influence of the Bible and caring Christian friends, it became clear to me that I could never string together enough righteousness to impress a Holy God. What I needed was to admit my sins, turn away from them, and trust Christ to be my forgiver, friend, and leader.

I remember exactly where I was standing when I took that critical step. I was at Christian camp in southern Wisconsin, and I just broke down and repented. According to Luke 15:10, do you know what happened next? All of heaven erupted in a magnificent cosmic celebration. There was an enormous party with the honoree's name on the banner - and it was mine! When that dawned on me I remember thinking, "I must really matter to God!" It was almost overwhelming to me!

If you're a genuine Christ-follower, the same thing happened when you acknowledged your sin and trusted in Him. Whether last week or forty years ago, all of heaven erupted in a party, and your name was on the banner. Do you see how much you are treasured by God?

And if you think you know what joy is now, just wait until you're a primary planner in the process that leads one of your friends to Christ. You're going to almost explode with joy when you take part in that person's celestial celebration. That's only natural, especially when you realize that you actually helped get their name on the banner!

Does that pique your interest? There's nothing like the adventure of being used by God to spread His love, truth, and life to other people - people who matter deeply to Him. So let's get on with it!

 

The Shack: The Bad

    Last week, I introduced a brief pastor’s desk “series” on William Paul Young’s book/movie The Shack. On the recommendation of some from church, I decided to go see the movie to refresh my memory after reading the book almost a decade ago. Last week, I wrote about what is good in the story. What we can hold on to. (See the “Pastor’s Blog” section of our church website if you didn’t get a chance to read it.) But as promised, I also want to address a couple of key things I would change about the story if I could. (Turns out I can’t fit two or three carefully-worded critiques in one pastor’s desk, so I will have to spread them out over two Sundays.)

It’s important to remember that this story is not like other fiction books. Young’s aim is not just to tell a good story but to teach a theology about God and how he acts in the world. Because of this, those of us who are Christians need to compare the ideas in The Shack to the truth of the Bible. The Bible is the “measuring stick” by which we measure all other ideas. I have no desire to merely assert my preferences, nor do I want to “heresy hunt.” I merely want to compare the God we see in the book/movie to the God we see in Scripture

    So let’s look at the first thing I would change about The Shack if I could:

 

The Shack’s god is too tame. Let’s start with a rather obvious issue. In the book and movie, Young has “Papa” (who represents God the Father) telling the main character, Mack, that she does not judge or have wrath. “Sin is it’s own punishment,” she says. While it’s true that sin is a punishment in itself (read Romans 1 to see God give people over to sin as a form of punishment), it is by no means the only punishment for sin that we see in Scripture. First of all, death is the main result of the fall. “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). This gets glossed over.

 

But also, The Shack does not take into account the “too many to list” Bible passages that teach that God, in his perfect justice, will punish sin with righteous wrath. This includes God getting downright angry about sin. Sin is not only destroying people he loves, but it is downright offensive to him as it runs counter to who he is as a righteous and holy God. In fact, his holiness is deadly to us sinners. Throughout the movie and book, Mack just waltzes right up to God. But in the Bible, we know that we can’t see God and live (Ex. 33:20). When Isaiah was brought before God, he saw God through the smoke surrounding his throne and said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips. For my eyes have seen the King!” When the apostle John saw Jesus in all his glory, he said, “When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead.” We may like that the god of The Shack is relatable and approachable, but we would do well to remember that—outside of prayer—our Holy God is only approachable once we are glorified and set free from the ever-present sin of this world.

 

But the main issue is by eliminating the righteous wrath and supreme holiness of God, you get a very incomplete picture of God. As Tim Keller says, “Half a God is no God at all.” Ironically, one of the main messages of The Shack is that we must trust that God is good even when we don’t understand. And yet, Young seems unwilling to trust that God is good even in his wrath. He would cut wrath out of the picture. He would have done better to represent God as C.S. Lewis does in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When asked if Aslan (the God-figure) is a tame lion, the answer was an unequivocal “no.” When asked if he is “safe,” it was said, “Safe?...Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the king I tell you.” This gets more at the God we know and love from Scripture. He’s not safe like the ever-smiling god of The Shack, but he is unspeakably good.


 

The Shack: The Good

Back in 2007, William P. Young released his best-selling, controversial book, The Shack. Now, 10 years later, the book has become a movie. The movie has matched the book in popularity grossing $16.1 million in its opening weekend alone. 

Since the movie came out, I have had several people ask me what I think about the story, and since it had been many years since I read it, I decided to just go see it for myself. So I sat in a dark movie theater with a pen and paper hoping that when the movie was done my blind notes would make some sense. (Most of them did.) As I walked away from the theater, I felt just as I did after reading the book: Namely that there is a lot to appreciate about the story, but there are also a substantial number of things that we shouldn’t allow to influence how we think about God and how he works.

So over the next two weeks, I’m going to review the book/movie and give my very brief thoughts on “what is good” and “what I would change if I could.” Let’s start this week with the good.

 

1. It’s compelling. There is no doubt that The Shack tugs at your heart in a lot of good ways. I’m not a crier. (In fact, I probably average two tears per calendar year. So after watching The Shack, I’m set until 2018.) But it’s not hard as a father of two girls to put myself in the shoes of the main character, Mack, who has the unthinkable happen. To lose a child in such a horrific way would shake anyone, and only the “God of all comfort” that we see in 2 Corinthians 1 could possibly bring healing to a pain that deep. Because we can each identify with that pain, we find ourselves empathizing and celebrating with the main character as God takes him on his journey at the shack.

 

2. You won’t doubt God’s love. If there is one thing The Shack makes abundantly clear, it’s that God loves the people he created. No one, not even someone who does unspeakable evil, is exempt from his love or beyond his grace. Right off the bat, the “God the Father” character in the story tells Mack, “You have no idea how much I love you.” I think this is true, and we need to reminder ourselves of this, especially when we’re in deep pain. In Ephesians 3, Paul prays that the Ephesians would “know the love that surpasses knowledge.” The Shack illustrates that unfathomable love.

 

3. The Problem of Evil. This is where the author seems to excel. Mack is in the clutches of tremendous pain because of a great evil that was done to his family. He is angry that God didn’t use his power to stop it when he could have. Over the course of the movie, God shows Mack: 1. He currently allows evil as he gives people free will to sin, but he doesn’t cause/create it. 2. He is able to work all things, even terrible things, for good. We don’t understand how he’ll do it, but we can trust he will. 3. God’s job as judge is harder than it looks, especially seeing as he loves all people. 4. Heaven is a place where hurting people, like his daughter, are completely restored. Many of these things are ideas we discussed a few weeks ago when we explored the question: “Why do bad things happen to good people?”

 

    Typically when I hear people loved the book/movie, these are the things people say they really appreciated. Of course, the Bible speaks to God’s love and his comfort in the midst of evil (in a more trustworthy way), but good art can help to bring these truths to life. Though I’ll hit on the significant things I wish I could change next week, I was glad to be reminded of God’s overwhelming goodness in the movie theater this week.

Why do Bad Things Happen to Good People?

Last week in our Frequently Asked Questions sermon series we looked at the question, “Why do bad things happen to good people?” And because there is so much more to say than can fit into a 35 minute sermon, I promised I would write on this subject a couple more times here.

One passage I would like to have looked at Sunday was from Luke 13:1-5. In this passage, Jesus gets some terrible news that the wicked and violent Pilate has killed some Jewish men from Galilee and even worse he mixed their blood with their sacrifices to God. It was pretty gruesome to say the least. Jesus responded to this news saying,

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

At that place and time it would have been common for people to assume that these unexpected deaths were punishment from God for especially wicked sins. But Jesus quickly dispels that notion. They were no more sinful than anyone else. In fact, Jesus doesn’t get into “why” it happened. His concern is what others will do in light of what happened. He says, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

A number of years ago John Piper wrote a very compelling article on this when the bridge collapsed in the Twin Cities where he is pastor. He says Jesus’ response will only make sense to those who understand the destructiveness of sin and the grace of God. He wrote,

Jesus implies that those who brought him this news thought he would say that those who died, deserved to die, and that those who didn’t die did not deserve to die. That is not what he said. He said, everyone deserves to die. And if you and I don’t repent, we too will perish. This is a stunning response....

That any human is breathing at this minute on this planet is sheer mercy from God. God makes the sun rise and the rain fall on those who do not treasure him above all else. He causes the heart to beat and the lungs to work for millions of people who deserve his wrath. This is a view of reality that desperately needs to be taught in our churches, so that we are prepared for the calamities of the world.

The meaning of the collapse of this bridge is that John Piper is a sinner and should repent or forfeit his life forever. That means I should turn from the silly preoccupations of my life and focus my mind’s attention and my heart’s affec- tion on God and embrace Jesus Christ as my only hope for the forgiveness of my sins and for the hope of eternal life. That is God’s message in the collapse of this bridge. That is his most merciful message: there is still time to turn from sin and unbelief and destruction for those of us who live. If we could see the eternal calamity from which he is offering escape we would hear this as the most precious message in the world.

So when you hear of the next tragedy that befalls our world, Jesus tells us that repentance is the correct response. Due to sin there will be death in this world, but due to Christ there is grace and life. The very fact that you are alive today shows that God is still extending that grace to you, and Jesus tells us not to drag our feet in accepting it.

The Problem of Pride

In the month of January, many of you who signed up to be part of our “2017 Reading Program” at Gateway read C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity. For those of you who didn’t, allow me to share with you a piece of the book that I have always found particularly important for understanding my own sin, specifically that especially sneaky and destructive sin of pride, which always stands between us and God. Lewis writes,

The Christians are right: it is Pride which has been the chief cause of misery in every nation and every family since the world began. Other vices may sometimes bring people together: you may find good fellowship and jokes and friendliness among drunken people or unchaste people. But pride always means enmity - it is enmity. And not only enmity between man and man, but enmity to God.

In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that - and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison - you do not know God at all. As long as you are proud you cannot know god. A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.

That raises a terrible question. How is it that people who are quite obviously eaten up with Pride can say they believe in God and appear to themselves very religious? I am afraid it means they are worshipping an imaginary God. They theoretically admit themselves to be nothing in the presence of this phantom God, but are really all the time imagining how He approves of them and thinks them far better than ordinary people: that is, they pay a pennyworth of imaginary humility to Him and get out of it a pound’s 

worth of Pride towards their fellow-men. I suppose it was of those people Christ was thinking when He said that some would preach about Him and cast out devils in His name, only to be told at the end of the world that He had never known them. And any of us may at any moment be in this death-trap. Luckily, we have a test. Whenever we find that our religious life is making us feel that we are good - above all, that we are better than someone else - I think that we may be sure that we are being acted on, not by God, but by the devil. The real test of being in the presence of God is, that you either forget about yourself altogether or see yourself as a small, dirty object. It is better to forget about yourself altogether.

It is a terrible thing that the worst of all the vices can smuggle itself into the very centre of our religious life. But you can see why. The other, and less bad, vices come from the devil working on us through our animal nature. But this does not come through our animal nature at all. It comes direct from Hell. It is purely spiritual: consequently it is far more subtle and deadly. For the same reason, Pride can often be used to beat down the simpler vices. Teachers, in fact, often appeal to a boy’s Pride, or, as they call it, his self-respect, to make him behave decently: many a man has overcome cowardice, or lust, or ill-temper, by learning to think that they are beneath his dignity - that is, by Pride. The devil laughs. He is perfectly content to see you becoming chaste and brave and self-controlled provided, all the time, he is setting up in you the Dictatorship of Pride - just as he would be quite content to see your chilblains cured if he was allowed, in return, to give you cancer. For Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense. 

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