I have the privilege of leading a little “book club” at Holy Cross, Sullivan’s Island. A few weeks ago we began reading/studying Gerhard Forde’s juggernaut “On Being a Theologian of the Cross”, a book that cannot be recommended highly enough. In trying to elucidate/introduce people to the theology of the cross (as opposed to a theology of glory), I’ve been pulling from all over the map. Last night, for example, the notes included many passages from Scripture, plus excerpts from Melancthon, Tyndale, Grace in Practice, Fitz Allison, A. McGrath, not to mention portions of OBATOTC.
We closed by reading the first two thirds of a brilliant sermon preached by Frank Limehouse this past March 7th, at the Advent in Birmingham, AL. It made a great impact on the folks in attendance, and I was struck once again by its creativity and depth. It needs to be shared, and here follow two excerpts, a link to the full text, and the mp3:
In the verses assigned to us this morning, Paul talks about the ancient Israelites in the wilderness, God’s own chosen people, how they had fallen and the destruction they brought upon themselves. Paul said all that had been recorded, not just for historical purposes, but for a warning. Therefore he proceeded to give them this solemn admonition, a famous verse of biblical wisdom, “Let any one who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
That surely runs counter to the wisdom of Mr. Worldly Wiseman. We live in a culture and an age when everyone is supposed to uplift their strengths and affirm themselves. It’s just a part of the self-esteem fervor that has swept this country. I don’t mean to completely belittle that, because there may be some good in it, but we just live in a time when self-affirmation is considered the smart thing to do ad nauseam and it is not biblical wisdom.
The classic example from television is Stuart Smalley, no kin to Craig. He’s the ridiculous character on Saturday Night Live from years ago. To begin his mornings, he used to look in the mirror and say to himself, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and doggone it, people like me.” And then he would go out and completely blow it, make an idiot out of himself.
The essence of the modern psychology of self-affirmation is so very different from what we prayed in today’s old Anglican collect:
“Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul…” Get that: “Almighty God, who seest that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves…”
I can’t tell you what the Devil looks like. In my own mind he wears red tights, has horns and a tail and carries a pitchfork. Other than in the Garden of Eden, in which he is described as crafty and subtle; and Ezekiel, who tells us he was perfect in beauty, I cannot talk so much about what the devil looks like. But we can talk about how the devil operates. St. Peter said, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking some one to devour” (1 Peter 5:8).
Interestingly, the devil doesn’t come at you only where you’re weak. He’s very interested in your gifts and strengths. This is where we are most vulnerable. The woman with a charming smile is tempted to “get away with murder.” The salesman with the gift of persuasion, is often tempted to “take ‘em for what they’re worth.” God, on the other hand, is most interested in what? Your weaknesses. The Lord said to Paul ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’… Get that: God’s works with our weaknesses, for that is how God’s enters into our hearts and lives. “For the sake of Christ, then”, Paul said, “I am content with weaknesses…for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Corinthians 12:9,10).