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External Humility

Pursuing Christlikeness was of paramount importance to committed believers in past centuries. Strategies for developing the fruit of the Spirit and Christlike virtues prompted much discussion and analysis, both verbal and written. They painstakingly considered all facets of these character qualities to determine how best to live them out in their daily lives. Quite frankly, many of them make us look like rank amateurs in comparison. We can learn much from them. Our pursuit of Christlikeness becomes more intentional when we focus on one specific character quality at a time. Let’s take a look at what Francis de Sales wrote in his book An Introduction to the Devout Life (published in 1608),1 on one aspect of humility he terms “external humility:”

“The kestrel [a falcon] has a peculiar property of frightening away birds of prey with its looks and cries, for this reason the dove seeks to live nearby it for safety; and so humility repulses Satan and preserves in us the gifts and graces of the Holy Spirit.

“We call vainglory that which we seek for ourselves, either for that which is not in us, or being in us, is not our own, or being in us and our own, is not worthy to be glorified in. Noble birth, the favor of the great, popular esteem, are not in ourselves, they come either from our forefathers or from the opinion of others. Some people are proud and conceited because they have a fine horse, a feather in their hat, or are magnificently attired, but who cannot see the absurdity of this, since if anyone has reason to be proud it surely is the horse, the ostrich, or the tailor! And how very contemptible it is to rest our hope of esteem in a horse, a feather, or a garment!

“Another thinks of his well-trimmed beard and mustache, or his well-curled hair, his delicate hands, of his accomplishment in dancing, music, and so on, but is it not very contemptible to try to enhance one’s worth or reputation through such foolish and frivolous things? Others, who have acquired a little science, demand the respect and honor of the world on that account, as if everyone must learn what they know and bow before those who teach it. Such men we call pedants [those excessively concerned with minor details]. Others pride themselves on their personal beauty, and think that everyone is admiring them: all of them in their turn are utterly silly, foolish, and impertinent, and their glory in such empty things we call vain, absurd, and frivolous. …

“In order to know whether someone is really wise, learned, generous, and noble, observe whether these make him humble, modest and submissive. If so they are genuine, but … in proportion to the show they make, they are less worthy. … Those virtues and attractive qualities which have their root in pride, self-sufficiency, and vanity, have merely an outward show of excellence, but no substance. …

“All the value of beauty is gone when its possessor is self-conscious; to be pleasing it should be forgotten; and science becomes contemptible when it is puffed up and degenerates into pedantry. … Honor means something when willingly offered, but becomes contemptible when it is sought after, demanded, or extracted. … Worldly honors are acceptable to those who receive them indifferently without resting in them or seeking them eagerly, but they become very dangerous and hurtful to those who cling to and take delight in them.

“The desire and pursuit of virtue tend to render us virtuous, but the desire and pursuit of honors tend to make us odious and despicable. A really great mind will not waste itself on such empty goods as rank, honor, and form. It has higher pursuits, and leaves these other pursuits for the weak and vain. He who can procure pearls will not be satisfied with shells, and those who aim at [Christlike] virtue do not trouble themselves about honors.”

Phil 2:3. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. (NIV)

This writer’s personal strategy of pursuing Christlikeness is to add a special check-in time during the week where I reflect on how I’m progressing in spiritual growth and Christlike maturity. I have a list of the character qualities, beatitudes, aspects of holiness, and the fruit of the Spirit that I find in Scripture. I consider each one and grade myself on how I’m doing. I keep improving on the implementation of this practice. I find it helpful because it identifies where I need forgiveness, and it raises my awareness of being more like Christ in many situations throughout the week. Give it a try.

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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God: One Man’s Journey” available from Amazon.

©2017 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.

1 Excerpt from An Introduction to the Devout Life, TAN Books, Charlotte, NC (www.tanbooks.com) used with permission. (Some paraphrasing of excerpted material was performed for clarity.)

Ordering Your Private World (2017) – Review

I first read Gordon MacDonald’s Ordering Your Private World when it was originally released in 1984. He had been our pastor at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts, for the prior two years where everyone affectionately called him Pastor Mac. Today, he is the chancellor at Denver Seminary. When the book was released, I was in the midst of frantic, high-pressured seminary training preparing for a life of ministry; which he had inspired me, and many others, to undertake.

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I pre-ordered the 2017 release because it was promoted as “newly revised and updated,” and that is exactly what it is. Gordon MacDonald expertly weaves 34 more years of successes, failures, and lessons-learned into this version. He also updates or removes dated references and illustrations.

This book is about the need that each of us has to bring order to chaotic, busy, external lives because exterior busyness often results in an empty interior soul. The author writes, “There is a temptation to ignore the existence of our private world because it does not shout quite so loudly when neglected. It can be effectively shortchanged for large periods of time before it gives way to a sinkhole-like cave-in,” when the neglected private world can no longer hold the weight of our external worlds.

Too many Christians are running on empty. Too many pastors are pumping from a dry soul. And the rest of us are just exhausted and forced to do the next thing that someone demands; whatever that happens to be. Too many lives are out of our control, and too many of us have suffered burnout unnecessarily. Gordon MacDonald was not immune. He experienced his own sinkhole.

Drawing from extensive examples, the author explains how he, through trial and error, learned to bring his public and private worlds into order. He learned which spiritual disciplines deepened and enriched his daily relationship with Christ, and which work strategies carved out time for meaningful relationships with his family. His personality type didn’t make this easy for him, but he forced himself to do it anyway.

The author’s experiences and timeless insights can help us learn to effectively deepen our relationship with Christ in the midst of demands that constantly pull us in different directions. Ordering Your Private World can help us to live a life that is devoted to Him in action because our hearts are devoted to Him in love.

I wish I had read the first release more slowly because it is only now, with my own 34 more years of experience, that I see how I glossed over some of the more spiritual practices in the last third of the book. Ironically, I glossed over those because I was too busy, too driven, and too proud to slow down and take someone else’s advice—even the advice of someone I respected. My daily devotions have always been a critical component of my Christian walk, even in those busy seminary years. Over the past six years, however, I’ve been on quest to find the deeper spiritual and practical life dynamics that work best for me. In this latest read of Ordering Your Private World, I was a little amused that over the years I’ve unknowingly incorporated most of the same practices that the author describes, and those he alludes to.

Gordon MacDonald is one of those few profound writers that come along every now and again. He has made some colossal errors in his life that he has written about elsewhere, but even from those we can learn. I encourage you to read this book slowly and with self-reflection. The key to an ordered private world, as Gordon describes it, is an open and surrendered heart to God.

At the time of this writing, the 2017 version of Ordering Your Private World is only available from Christianbook.com. I assume a wider, global distribution is in process by the publisher.

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Dr. Rob Oberto is the award-winning author of “Intimacy With God: One Man’s Journey” available from Amazon.

©2017 Rob Oberto, All Rights Reserved.

 

 

 

Treasure in Heaven

Jesus said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth,” (Mt 5:5, NIV). If ever a statement defined success, this would be it. Some, unfortunately, settle for cash now instead of a promise of salvation later. The richest people on earth can afford to buy whole islands for themselves. I envy them. I mean, I really envy them. But Jesus said the meek will inherit the whole earth — an island in the cosmos. Now that’s a deal.

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Intimacy with God

The phrase “Intimacy with God” falls awkwardly upon our modern ears. It shouldn’t because it reflects the perfect relationship Jesus won the right for us to have with God, and it is the profound relationship that He prayed for us to have, in John 17:20-23 (NAS):

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The Word Became Jesus!

If all the words we ever spoke became embodied in a new human being, what would that person be like? They would look different from us, but they would be an exact representation of us.
Imagine: all the good words, all the comforting words, all the encouraging words, and all the other words standing in front of you. That’s a scary thought … for me anyway. Words are selected, carefully sometimes, thoughtlessly most of the time. They are a mirror of thoughts and emotions, a window into our soul.
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Spiritual Discernment

Ever since Jesus ascended into heaven, people have claimed to receive spiritual gifts, dreams, visions, and special revelation. How do we determine if a spiritual experience is genuinely from God? In the Middle Ages, the number of reported spiritual experiences reached a feverish level. Folks got attention for such reports, and in some cases money and a large following. We’re in a similar environment today. Are all spiritual experiences false?

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Is Self-Forgiveness Biblical?

Is God’s forgiveness enough, or does complete forgiveness require self-forgiveness? The biblical answer is, “God’s forgiveness completely absolves us of our sin.” Self-forgiveness, is not a biblical concept. However, our emotions are real and we must distinguish between the efficacy of God’s forgiveness of sin and the management of our grief and self-condemnation. We receive His forgiveness, but we often have to work through our emotions.

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The “Christian Standard Bible” 2017 – Review

Every ten years or so, I change the Bible translation I use for my personal devotions in order to force myself to read, re-highlight, and re-notate the text afresh. Over the years, I’ve worked extensively with the New American Standard (NAS), the New International Version (NIV), the New King James Version (NKJV), and, since 2012, the Holman Christian Standard Version (HCSB). For detailed study, I use the Logos Bible Software program to compare translations across many other versions (ESV, NRSV, etc.) and to dig into the nuances of the original languages.

In January 2017, an update to the Holman Christian Standard Bible was released. They dropped Holman from the name making it the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) now. I added it to my Bibles in Logos. You can check out the CSB online or download the free app from csbible.com. I’ve also learned that an update to the NAS is due out on a to-be-announced date in 2018.

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Truly God, Truly Man, Risen Savior!

Leo the Great, best known for persuading Attila the Hun to stop invading Italy in A.D. 452, penned the most succinct and profound explanation of how the divine and human natures of Christ worked to reconcile us to God.i This is a timeless must read:

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