Category Archives: Personal

9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

In Paul’s letter to the Philippian church, he gives a gospel-centred approach to our relationships and shows how selfishness is cured by understanding the only truly selfless person, Jesus, and his humility in going to the cross for our sins.

Philippians 2:3-8: “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

“Me”-centredness is everyone’s default mode of operation. And it’s an area of ongoing work and growth in my life. It’s one thing to know that because of the gospel, we esteem others better than ourselves. But what does it look like in practice? That’s what I often struggle with.

Last weekend we visited some friends who’ve recently joined the exodus out of Auckland. We saw a really helpful list on their fridge that lists 9 specific ways to esteem others better than yourself. I thought it was good enough to share here:

Specific ways to esteem others better than yourself

  1. Don’t assume that others have exactly the same evil motives as you find in your own heart (love “believes all things’, 1 Corinthians 13:7), but rather put the best possible interpretation on their actions.
  2. Look for those virtuous qualities in others that you know you are most in need of yourself. Then seek their help in acquiring those qualities.
  3. Don’t assume that your time, money, energy, thoughts, and opinions are more valuable than your neighbour’s.
  4. When making a decision, consider not only how that decision will affect your own interests, but also how it will affect the interests of others.
  5. Be alert not only to your own needs, but also to the needs of others.
  6. Demonstrate your high estimation of others by commending them for those qualities that are biblically worthy of praise.
  7. Guard your heart from developing a patter of critical, condemnatory, accusatory, judgemental thoughts about others. (Such thoughts make it very difficult, if not impossible, to esteem others better than yourself).
  8. Pray for your brothers and sisters in Christ.
  9. Remind yourself often that God has given to you everything you have to be proud of and that He has often used others to get you where you are. Thank God and thank thouse whom He has used to bless you.

(from Pleasing People by Lou Priolo)

My favourite suggestion is 8 – how wonderful would it be if Christians were known for “never putting anyone down, except onto prayer lists” (as Don Carson once said about his dad).

The one that I find the hardest is 7. How about you?

Confessions – Cheryl

23 July v10


I have always been selfish, proud and self-reliant. Even worse, my heart is deceitful, constantly trying to disguise my sin, or deflect the blame. I usually succeed in deceiving others, and always myself. Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

I worked hard to maintain my deception. I had the praise of others. I took the moral high ground. I was a straight A student. “I’m a Christian, from a Christian family, I’ve even been baptised. Don’t tell me what to do.”


Romans 5:8: “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

During this time, God placed me in churches where I began to hear the gospel. Though it didn’t inspire repentance, I became familiar with verses such as Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”


Quite a few years later, I dropped out of my law degree, then failed my Masters in Speech language therapy. This was because my uni lecturers wanted me to get diagnosed for, as it turns out, anxiety and Aspergers, among other things. Around the same time, I was trying to hide a trail of relational breakdowns in my personal life. I was increasingly disobedient to my parents. The divisions already tense in my family were made worse by my callous disregard of anyone else’s feelings. Once I scribbled hatred with a ballpoint pen over my parents’ painted walls. I also had an ongoing internet gaming addiction. I went to great pains both to feed it and to hide my tracks. At one point, I was clocking 16 hour gaming days behind my parents’ backs.


My academic failures upturned my delusions of self-sufficiency. I had gone from a straight A student to a law school and Masters dropout. Also, because the diagnoses were now out there for anyone to see, I could no longer use deceit to hide my various other sins.

In truth, the psychiatric world could only label behaviours it thought were dysfunctional. I realised those were just the tip of the iceberg. For the first time I saw that it was my sin that often caused the unresolved arguments, unspoken resentments, the sun gone down in anger so many times. Everywhere I looked was sin upon sin, a mess of devastated relationships I could not untangle.


Even now, I still marvel at the elegance of God’s grace. He fed me His Word over the years so I would know the gospel. He showed me the extent and horror of my sin. He arranged my life so that I could not conceal my sin; I had to confess it. My only hope was to trust in Christ’s righteousness, death and resurrection.

1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”


So why am I here today? Haven’t I already been baptised? As an 18 year-old feigning holiness, I got into that pool and I got wet all right. But I was dead in my sin, there was no repentance, and my heart was hard to Jesus. I was not a believer.

So today, I am not getting re-baptised. I am being baptised for the first time, as a forgiven sinner, in submission to Jesus, a new creation in Christ.

Caterpillars

Beneath a grey, complaining sun,
we wandered, I and you,
disconsolate and dubious,
to where the milkweed grew.

But there were monarch caterpillars
nestled in the ‘weed,
and puffy green ballooning fruit
that scatters swan plant seed.

We glimpsed a tiny second-instar
feasting on a leaf;
The big ones wore their velvet stripes
in black and gold relief.

Behold! He clothes the tree and worm:
are we not God’s delight?
O anxious heart, seek first His realm,
and He will prove His might.

– C. 17 June

If music be the food of love…

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Last week, thanks to some generous people babysitting our girls, Cheryl and I enjoyed a night out at the Pop-Up Globe in Auckland. It was a pretty unique experience watching William Shakespeare’s “Twelfth Night” in a to-scale replica of the Globe Theatre, the space where Shakespeare’s plays were originally performed in. The circular theatre was great, everyone had a good view, the witty and talented cast had us roaring with laughter. We didn’t care much for the lewdness that came along with the drunken scenes (played up to the crowd’s delight); it was also telling that the only “religious” character was portrayed as the most villainous and mocked mercilessly.

I wasn’t a big Shakespeare buff as school, so had never read Twelfth Night before. But the story was fairly easy to pick up. Orsino is in love with Olivia, who falls in love with Viola (dressed as a boy), who falls in love with her boss, Orsino. Other people have love interests too. Comedy ensues.

While much of the Elizabethan English slipped past, hearing the words spoken live made it much easier to understand than reading scenes in English class. One thing was clear: Twelfth Ngiht was an exploration of romantic love. This was clear from the very first line: “If music be the food of love, play on!” And as the play progressed, love was described in various ways – as pain, as an “appetite” to satisfy, as “fell and cruel hounds”, as a “plague”, as unfulfilled.

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Later that week, while preparing a sermon on Jesus’s claim to be the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-21), I found it quite striking to note how differently God describes love and suffering.

Consider this: where the good Bard preaches love as a cause of suffering, the Good Shepherd preaches suffering for the cause of love.

“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep….” (John 10:11)

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…” (John 15:13)

And elsewhere in John’s letters:

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” (1 John 3:16)

“In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (1 John 4:10)

God’s word reminds us of how the gospel truly is the greatest love story.

In the drama of the cross, you have the most compelling portrayal of love: a God of grace who loved us while we were still sinners (Romans 5:8) through the sacrifice of His Beloved Son. A Good Shepherd, whose “abandoned life secured our abundant life”.

Or, in the Bard’s own words: “Love sought is good, but giv’n unsought is better.”

Prone to wander: balance, family and priorities

As I look back at our calendar over the past 12 months, it’s easy to be puffed up.

We are the perfect family where I write interesting things, preach, lead worship, study, read, go cycling, play. Cheryl is the perfect housewife who bakes, sews, binds books, cooks, teaches the girls. It’s easy to rattle off what we’ve done and convince ourselves that being busy, doing stuff, going from one thing to another, means we have it all together.

But that’s not true.

That’s not who we are as a family. We struggle with sin. We’re tempted like everyone to make good things ultimate things in our lives. We need to keep bringing ourselves, our idols, to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness and grace in Jesus.

So here is an honest reflection, and an invitation to pray with us and to encourage one another.

One area that’s been a struggle for us in the last few months is in balancing between church and family commitments. And this is an area where I’m the one most at fault. And so earlier this week, after the helter-skelter of organising conferences, planning induction services and all kinds of ministry stuff, it was good for Cheryl and I to sit and think through where we were at.

We got to reflect on many things, including:

  • How easily I’ve said yes to ministry-related requests, even when I knew it was directly at the expense of serving the family.
  • How easy it’s been for date nights and family times to be put aside in exchange for an important ministry task.
  • How my heart is tempted to see up-front ministry as more spiritually formative than reading and praying at the dinner table.
  • Wondering out loud if – Lord forbid – I was willing to sacrifice my children on the altar of ministry “success”.

Faithful are the wounds of a friend, no less my best friend. It was difficult but good to wrestle with the truth: these are my temptations and struggles, from a heart that should delight in the love of Christ more than the praises of men, but is still “prone to wander”.

And perhaps they’re your struggles too. Whatever your vocation.

Maybe, like me, you’ve hidden behind your computer or phone screen because it’s easier than resolving the argument with your wife or kids.

Maybe, like me, you’d prefer chatting with the someone who showers you with praise on Sunday morning, than chatting with your wife about what chores need to be done. 

 


 

Last Sunday, the elders of Howick Baptist commissioned Richard and Sam Cutforth into full-time service as Senior and Assistant Pastor respectively. During the commissioning, one of the elders read out 1 Timothy 3:1-7 to remind everyone of the characteristics of an overseer. It was verse 4 and 5 that stuck out to both of us.

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)”

This isn’t just for “elders”. This is a mark of a mature Christian. Faithfulness to the family – how I set my priorities in my home life, how I love Cheryl and the girls, how I serve them – all this determines how effective I am in any kind of gospel ministry.

By God’s grace I hope I don’t forget this.