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Shepherd’s Conference (III)

MacArthur’s early-morning speech is the talk of the conference to this point. It has taken the blogosphere by storm and is generating a lot of discussion around the church campus as well. The most common comment is along the lines of “This is what happens when R.C. Sproul is not at the conference!” Please do heed the advice I posted and wait for the audio before drawing too many conclusions. I actually spoke to MacArthur shortly after the speech and he said to me that he was really hoping that this speech would just spur people on to think about the issues surrounding eschatology. Well, he certainly accomplished his goal!

And now, we’ll move on to this summary of the day’s final session. Because of the death of John Piper’s father, he was unable to be with us tonight. Thankfully C.J. Mahaney, who was at the conference anyways, was willing and able to step in and take Piper’s place. As C.J. said, “Regardless of your eschatology I don’t think anyone saw this coming!” As is typical of him, C.J. began with a funny, self-deprecating monologue that had us all laughing for a few minutes. But he grew serious and said that he considers the opportunity to speak at the Shepherd’s Conference a life and ministry highlight that is only exceeded by MacArthur’s invitation to preach at Grace Community Church during a worship service. C.J. opened with prayer for John Piper as he mourns the loss of his father.

For his text he chose Isaiah 66:1-2 and showed that the background to this passage proves that the Israelites lacked humility. God draws their attention away from their preoccupation with privilege and ritual and describes for them the one to whom He will look. And like all Scripture this passage was written for both that audience and for us as well.

“Tonight,” he declared, “I believe the Savior would draw us away from the necessary pursuit of excellence in ministry skills and direct our attention to that which is fundamental in all of ministry – our hearts.” And specifically to the subtle and deadly presence of pride in our hearts. He framed the session around three points.

The Perils of Pride

Pride is the first sin that was ever commited, appears to be the essence of all sin and it is also the most serious sin. There is no sin God hates more than this one. He asked us, “What do you hate?” So much of what we hate are things of little consequence but Scripture never trivializes God’s holy hatred of sin. At times we appropriately share God’s hatred of certain sins. We hate abortion, we hate child abuse, we hate racism. But regardless of what we hate, we hate nothing like God hates pride. Why does God hate pride so intensely? Because pride is when sinful creatures aspire to the status and position of God, refusing to acknowledge their dependence upon Him. He quoted Charles Bridges from his commentary on Proverbs: “Pride lifts up the heart against God. It contends for supremacy with Him,” In differing degrees and in different forms we are all proud and are all vulnerable to pride. Not surprisingly in light of our human nature, we are normally more perceptible of pride in others than in ourselves. It is not “if pride exists in your heart” but where it is and how it exists.

Because pride is so serious and so pervasive, he closed this section with this reflection: “We gather here in need of illumination and discernment as it relates to the power and presence of pride in our hearts.”

The Promise of Humility

Humility is a rare quality that captures God’s attention. Nothing escapes His notice but one thing captures His gaze. He is aware of all things, but is searching for one thing. Note that in verse two there is no command. This is not a command to humble ourselves. Instead, humility is simply held out as something that is divinely attractive. God is not only passionately against pride but specifically attentive to humility. The same hand that crushes the proud upholds, supports and exalts the humble.

Of course momentary inspiration is not sufficient. Mere education is not sufficient. There must be specific application of truth to our lives for there to be transformation. It is not enough to admire and desire humility, so this can be done while remaining proud. There must be purposeful application if there is to be any true change.

Purposeful Application

These are ways to tremble at His Word and so C.J. provided many ways, many lifelong pursuits, that will help us to apply His Word to our lives and experience the sweet, transforming effect of His Word.

Study the Attributes of God – In particular, we should study the incommunicable attributes of God (the ones that He does not share with others). In verse one of this text God is revealing incommunicable attributes. The foremost effect of contemplating the character of God is humility. The more we are aware of the distance between us and God, the more humility we will experience and express.

Each Day Survey the Wondrous Cross – He quoted Carl Henry who said: “How can anyone be arrogant when he stands beside the cross?” and then told us that each day he desires to stand as close beside the cross as he can because it is difficult to be arrogant standing there.

Study the Doctrines of Grace – Study them first and foremost for the good of your soul. To be theologically Reformed and personally arrogant is a profound contradiction. We who love these doctrines should be different because of them. There should be a discernible humility.

Study the Doctrine of Sin – Two things are needed to humble us: consider God and then consider ourselves in our mean, abject and sinful condition. No one will help more in this than reading John Owen.

Apply the Doctrine of Sin – It is difficult to specifically confess a particular area of depravity. Depravity in general is fairly simple to admit, but specifics are more difficult.

Invite and Pursue Correction – A humble individual realizes that others are hesitant to correct, so you must invite and pursue correction. And here he shared a challenge for the men at the conference. If you get home and your wife asks “How was the conference?” don’t just say “It was good.” Arrange for someone to care for the children and take her to some context where you can talk for a long time unhurried and undistracted and give her specifics and details and thank her for supporting you and allowing you to come here. Give her two gifts (ask her two questions). Where do I need to grow in serving and leading you? Where do I need to grow in serving and leading the children? If you are serious about mortifying pride and cultivating humility, you will seek the wisdom of the one who knows you best and loves you most.

He then provided a few pursuits specific to pastors:

Seize the Humbling Potential of the Preaching Task – Examine your heart after you preach and realize the difference between being dissatisfied by a sermon and discouraged by a sermon. We can always be somewhat dissatisfied by a sermon, knowing it could improve, but discouragement is often pride. Discouragement about a sermon often means you’re more desiring to impress than serve with the sermon. The process of preparation for a sermon is a process of sanctification where often pride is revealed.

Use Unflattering Illustrations of Yourself in Your Sermons – The people served through preaching assume the preacher is different from them unless he proves that he is not. People find hope when they find that the preacher struggles with what they struggle with.

Recognize Your Theological Limitations – We all have severe limitations in our theology and ability. It has a humbling effect to be reminded of that and we should never leave a different impression of this.

Prepare to be Replaced – At this point C.J. recounted a brief history of how the Sovereign Grace Pastor’s College came about and how he began to prepare for Josh Harris, his eventual replacement.

Recognize Your Relative Unimportance – You are a vital, not optional, means of grace. But no one here is indispensible. Each of us can and some day will be replaced, and probably (and hopefully!) by people who are more gifted and more capable.

Play Golf as Much as Possible – There is no more humiliating sport than golf and it will accelerate the process of developing humility.

He wrapped up by moving at warp speed through a short lists of daily tasks that helps him in his battle against pride.

Pride is present and active and is seeking to make itself active as soon as we wake up, so acknowledge dependence upon God immediately and out loud.

Try to incorporate devotions specific thankfulness to God because thankfulness is a soil in which pride does not easily grow. An ungrateful person is a proud person which means a grateful person is a humble one.

Begin by practicing the spiritual disciplines at the outset of the day as this will serve as a daily declaration of our need for God. Not practicing spiritual disciplines is not so much a sign of a lack of discipline but a statement of self-sufficiency.

Seize your commute as an opportunity for meditation and memorization of Scripture.

Throughout the day cast your cares upon Him. We humble ourselves throughout the day by casting our cares upon Him. Where there is worry or anxiety we also know there is pride for the root of worry is self-sufficiency.

At the end of the day transfer all glory to God. Try to end each day walking back through the day and transferring the glory for all that has happened to God. If we do not do this we are vulnerable to keeping the glory for ourselves.

Before falling asleep, receive the gift of sleep and acknowlege that sleep is a reminder of our dependence upon God. Thank Him for this gift but humble yourself and be reminded that you are creature and not creator (who needs no sleep).

And speaking of this, my eyes are very heavy and I must get to sleep before I just collapse. I’ll be back tomorrow. I’ll be sure to bring summaries of the day’s sessions, but will also tell you about the Scholar’s Desk I served at and some other interesting little tidbits. Stay tuned!

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