Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The Father of mercies and the God of all comfort

I am healing after surgery.

I find that, in general, my body systems feel better if I don't take my pain medicine.  However.  There are times I still need to take that pain medicine.  Like 15 minutes ago.  I waited and waited, and then I took it, because I needed it.  I needed some comfort.

God's Word says,
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, 
the Father of mercies and God of all comfort,  
who comforts us in all our affliction, 
so that we may be able to comfort 
those who are in any affliction, 
with the comfort with which we ourselves 
are comforted by God. 
For as we share abundantly in Christ's sufferings, 
so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too.
~2 Corinthians 1:3-5 (ESV)

God is merciful, and He comforts us.  He loves us, and He is tender towards us.  He understands us, and He cares. He allows us to suffer, but He does not abandon us in our suffering.  He upholds us and strengthens our faith.

God knows when the pain is good for us...
when it will tender our souls,
when it will teach us compassion for others,
when it will prepare us perfectly for whatever ministry He has in store for us.

And God knows when we need "a pain pill," when we need comfort.  And when we need it, He gives it.  He is merciful.  He doesn't go around smashing reeds that are already bruised (Matthew 12:20).

Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth;
break forth, O mountains, into singing!
for the Lord has comforted His people
and will have compassion on His afflicted.
~Isaiah 49:13 (ESV)

We've been through a lot this year.  We have never had a year like this one.  Now that we are finally settling in our new home, things seem to be evening out.  For that, we are thankful.  Shortly after the move, back when the sun-porch was still plumb full of cardboard boxes, we were blessed by a visit from a NY friend, and when we went to pick her up at the airport in Chicago, we were doubly blessed to be able to attend Sunday morning services at the church of Colin Smith, my favorite radio preacher.

Pastor Colin was preaching on Joel 2, the second half, the part about God restoring the years that the locusts had eaten.  There are times when you wonder what God wants you to get out of a sermon, and times when you know what He is telling you, but it's a little hard to swallow.  There are times when it is difficult to concentrate on a sermon, and even (for shame!) times when you wish someone else were there to hear it.  But that Sunday morning, in a strange city, in an unfamiliar church, I sat there and just thought, "No way!  He's talking to me, to me," as the tears welled up behind my eyes.  All the difficulties, all the fearful things we had faced and would continue to face, all the loss and disappointment... God promises to restore.  Someday we will never again be put to shame, and He will pour out His Spirit on us.  We will eat in plenty and be satisfied.  He will restore the years the locusts have eaten.

Do you know what my favorite line of Psalm 23 has been lately?

He restores my soul.
~Psalm 23:3a (ESV)

And another verse I cling to (I first learned this one when I was teaching Sunday school to first and second graders)...

For You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.
~Psalm 86:17b (NIV)

He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Forgiveness and suffering

I write a lot about suffering here, probably because suffering is a Biblical reality that I find missing from much Biblical teaching.

(aside:  I am no masochist.  I don't write about suffering because I like it.  I write about suffering because I think there is a lack of solid Christian teaching on the subject--not that I am claiming to be solid, but an attempt at teaching is better than no teaching in an area that most people don't care to broach.  I write about suffering because Christians who are suffering need to know that it is a normal part of life on a fallen earth and does not mean that God doesn't love them.  I write about suffering because some Biblically uniformed people seem to think that the existence of suffering is somehow a proof against the existence of God.  But I don't write about suffering because I like to.  I don't like suffering any more than anybody else.)

One theme of the Bible is this:  you will be refined through suffering and trials.  It's stated over and over.  Off the top of my head, I can give you Romans 5:3-5, 1 Peter 1:6-7 and James 1:2-4.

This may not be our favorite or most marketable truth, as Christians.  But the Bible clearly tells us that we will suffer.  Jesus himself said, "In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world." (from John 16:33)

Honestly, I have not met many people who are worth knowing who have not suffered.  Suffering tenders people, deepens their ability to have compassion.  God uses suffering to make our spirits beautiful.  When we suffer, we learn things we could never learn in any other way.

I have always dreaded suffering, good results notwithstanding.  I am a Big Chicken.  I do not like pain.

Philippians 3:8-10 (ESV) says,   
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

It does exhilarate me to think of casting aside "all things" as rubbish for the greater good of knowing Christ.  I am not sure how to do this, and I am quite sure that apart from the power of the Holy Spirit I am utterly unable to accomplish it. Still, the idea appeals to me.

However, sharing in His suffering, becoming like Him in His death... that scares me a great deal.

Suffering for Jesus makes me think of Christians in countries where it is illegal to be a Christian.  It makes me think of being thrown into prison, starved, beaten, tortured.  Because I have a pathologically vivid imagination, I will spare you the details of all the things it makes me think of.  Suffice it to say, it scares me to death.

I may be called to suffer like that.  Some people are, and some people are not.  But we are all called to suffer for Christ, and there are other, more every-day ways that God accomplishes this in us.

For instance, the other day I was reading and thinking about Ephesians 4: 32 (ESV),
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.  What does that mean?  How did God in Christ forgive me?

In Christ, God forgave me by bearing the consequences of my sins Himself, in His own human body that He indwelt in order to accomplish the task (see Philippians 2:5-11).  He did not simply say, "Whooops!  You made some mistakes, but no big deal. I'll just forgive you, and you can start over with a clean slate, don't worry about it.  It's no big deal.  It doesn't matter."

It does matter.  Our sins are a very big deal, an offense against the perfect, holy, almighty Creator of the Universe.  Our sins do not just vaporize and blow away in a gentle breeze.  It was not, could not be, that easy.  To free us from the consequences of our sins, Jesus had to bear the consequences Himself.

Forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.   

This means that we forgive others, as Christ did, by suffering the consequences of their sins.  We bear the brunt.  We suffer what the person who hurt us should rightfully suffer.  And we do it because it's what Jesus did for us; it's the pattern He laid down.  We, like Jesus, must hold out mercy and self-sacrifice to our enemies, rather than demanding vengeance.  We must suffer, like Jesus, and entrust our souls to God, believing with all the faith He has given us that God Himself will take care of the ending.

This is very hard.  It is unpalatable.  But it is what the Bible says. 

It is hard, but we have opportunities all the time.  We don't have to wait for the government to make  Christianity illegal and throw us into prison.  We can share in the suffering of Christ every time someone wrongs us and we choose to absorb the hurt with forgiveness.

And as we trust God, He will make all things right.  As He raised, restored and glorified Christ, so He will raise, restore and glorify all of His children after we have struggled to learn, to trust, to take up our crosses and follow Him.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Jesus, the Incorruptible

In Bible study on Tuesday, we studied Matthew 8.

An image has hung with me since then: the image of Jesus reaching out to the leper, touching him and healing him.
"When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.  And behold, a leper came to him and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you will, you can make me clean.” And Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him, saying, “I will; be clean.” And immediately his leprosy was cleansed. And Jesus said to him, “See that you say nothing to anyone, but go, show yourself to the priest and offer the gift that Moses commanded, for a proof to them.”  
(Matthew 8:1-4 ESV)

This is the first vignette in the chapter, and it is burned into my mind.

Just a few pages back, Jesus said,
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.  Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." 
(Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)

And here, in Matthew 8:3, Jesus reaches out his hand to touch a leper, an act that would have appeared radically daring and perhaps even "illegal."  Leviticus 13 describes the laws about leprosy which include:

1.  The process by which a priest declared a person to be "unclean" because he had leprosy.  This involved a careful visual inspection, and (depending on what the visual inspection turned up) sometimes included a time when the sick person was "shut up" for seven days, after which the priest examined whether the disease had progressed.

2.  The life of a leper.  A person with leprosy had to wear torn clothes and let his hair grow wild (presumably, this was so that he would be easily identified so people would know to stay away from him).  He had to cover his upper lip (to avoid spreading his breath or saliva, and thus his germs?).  And he was required to call out, "Unclean!  Unclean!" wherever he went, so people would stay away from him.  He was to live alone, and he was to live "outside the camp."  People knew not to touch a leper, because a leper was unclean, and anyone who touched a leper would also become unclean.  Those who were unclean had to live separated from society.

People in the Jewish nation grew up with a morbid dread of leprosy and the shame, uncleanness and isolation that it brought.

Of course, God did not give the laws about leprosy to oppress lepers.  God gave these laws to keep His chosen nation healthy, to prevent the spread of a contagious illnesses among His people.  One of God's promises to Israel was that if they obeyed His laws, He would protect them from diseases (Deuteronomy 7:15).  He gave them laws that would protect them from diseases if they obeyed.  God revealed many of His laws specifically for the protection of His people, for their own good (Deuteronomy 10:13).

But Jesus did not need the physical protection afforded by God's law.  Jesus was God Himself, the perfectly holy one.  Jesus could not catch leprosy.  So when the leper approached him--desperate, humble, and full of faith--Jesus did the unthinkable, the unimaginable.  Jesus said, "I am willing.  Be clean." And He reached out His hand and healed the man with a touch (Matthew 8:3).  The leper was cured immediately, and Jesus was unaffected by the disease.  Jesus was fine, as He had known He would be.

This has been brewing, marinating, swirling around in my head: the wonder of who Jesus is, what He was able to do when He took on flesh and walked the earth.

Today it occurred to me that this story was a foretaste of Jesus' ultimate mission to save sinners from eternal damnation.  In microcosm, Jesus took up the infirmity of a leper.  Because of His perfect holiness, Jesus was able to make the man clean without bringing uncleanness on Himself.  But the real spiritual fulfillment of this foretaste came to pass at the cross.

On the cross, Jesus bore all the collective sins of mankind.  They soaked into His soul and permeated his spirit.  He experienced all of the guilt, shame, remorse and despair that all of us have ever felt and will ever feel.  He bore these sins to the depths of hell, and then He emerged victorious, untouched, unblemished and perfectly clean.

Only Jesus could do this.  Only Jesus.  Only Jesus could touch our sins--be covered with them, weighed down with the weight and the ugliness of all our wretched uncleanness so that God the Father Himself had to turn His face away--and still remain pure and perfect.  Only Jesus could undertake this massive challenge and fulfill it with a complete, decisive, devil-thumping win.

Only Jesus can take the unclean and make it clean.  He did it for the leper, and He did it for my sinful heart.  He can do it for everyone who comes to Him, and He promises, "...whoever comes to me, I will never drive away." (from John 6:37, NIV)  

He can do it for you.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Dwelling Place

I have to leave my home of 18 years.

Our family home.

The place our kids grew up.

This is harder than I ever imagined it would be.

I am not good at sorting, throwing away memories.  I liked the memories all packed away in bins on the basement shelves.  But you pay the movers per pound, per mile.  At that rate, over 775 miles, you can't afford to keep all those precious third grade journals and kindergarten hand-prints in clay.

I loved living in this house.  It's mine.  It's the kitchen and the back deck that I designed, the tile and the carpet and the paint colors that I picked out.  It's my rose bush that survived despite ridiculous odds.

I have to move to a new home, one I have never seen.

Today the Lord finally spoke to me as I read my Bible.  It is so strange how I can read my Bible day after day, sometimes the very same passages, and then one day, God speaks.

     Psalm 90:1-2
Lord, You have been our dwelling place
     throughout all generations.
Before the mountains were born
     or You brought forth the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting You are God.

God is helping and comforting me (Psalm 86:17).   This passage gives me two truths to hold tight.

Truth #1:
God is my dwelling place.  God is my home.  He will never leave me or forsake me.  No matter where I go, God will always be with me.  Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord.  God is my dwelling place.

Truth #2:
And I say this with a hint of humor, but it really helps as one is going through things, as one faces the necessity of throwing away perfectly good stuff simply because it is not cost effective to move it...  It's all going to burn.  It's all going to burn.  Everything I own will one day be burned up to nothing, and the only thing left will be the Everlasting God who will then bring forth new heavens and a new earth for the ones who love Him. From everlasting to everlasting, we who belong to Him will spend eternity with Him, and none of this earthly stuff will matter, not one little bit, not the photo albums or the computer drive, the tiffany lamps or even the books.   It's all going to burn.

God is God, and it's going to be OK.

Friday, April 5, 2013

Another confession

I have to get this off my chest.

This past Easter, I had a hard time focusing on the real meaning of the day.

Usually Easter is my favorite holiday.  It is about the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, after all.  The ultimate victory over sin and death.  The basis for all our hope.  The promise of redemption and eternal life.

It doesn't get any better than that.

But this year I was knee deep in home improvements, trying to help Shawn finish laying a wood floor in our bedroom, fretting over many, many things:

*Will our house sell?
*Will we get enough to be able to afford a house I like after we move?
*This is the last major holiday our family will spend all together in this house.  I wanted it to be beautiful, put-together, and well-planned.  Instead, it was messy, chaotic and fly-by-the-seat-of the-pants.
*We didn't get to celebrate Passover.  Shawn was in California.
*Was the Easter breakfast tasty enough?  The Easter dinner?
*I fretted like crazy when the lamb would not get done for Easter dinner.  Shannon had to drive back to school that evening.  We waited and waited and waited for that old meat thermometer to signal readiness.
*Was it bad that I was so minimalistic with gifts and Easter "surprises" for the kids?
*Could we please, please, please finish the bedroom floor project so I could take up the nasty plastic from the stairway carpet?  (This was not accomplished until after both girls had left to go back to school.)

All in all, I was much more a Martha than a Mary this year.  (Luke 10:38-42)

The worst of it is, I knew I was doing it, and I couldn't help it.  Things did not turn out the way I had hoped.  My heart did not sing at the thought of my Savior's victory. 

But still, even in the craziness and my huge disappointment with myself, there were things to be thankful for.

*Everybody was at home, together.
*We ate together, laughed together, and everyone slept in the proper bed, all the rooms full of their proper occupants at night.
*Our kitchen and bathrooms were all fully functional, and what do you really need besides hot meals, hot tea and hot showers?  Isn't that luxury enough?
*We all went to church together.
*Jesus loves me and saved me, and He continues to love me even when my flesh gets in the way of my appreciation for what He has done.
*Even if we can't get a house I love in Illinois, this world is not my home,  Jesus is preparing an eternal home for me in heaven.  When I get to heaven, I will always feel thankful, satisfied, joyful and loved.
*Nothing can separate me from the love of Christ.  Not even my own anxieties and the distractions of the world.

I've been looking at Revelation lately.  In the letters to the churches, Jesus says to Smyrna, "I know your afflictions and your poverty--yet you are rich!" (Revelation 2:9)  The church at Smyrna was undergoing persecution, and standing up to it in a praiseworthy way.  Jesus said that this made them rich.

Conversely, when He spoke to the church at Laodicea, Jesus said, "You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.'  But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked.  I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see." (Revelation 3:17-18)  These people were not undergoing persecution.  They were what we call "fat and happy."  They thought they were rich, but Jesus told them they were miserable and poor.

If I could ever come around to seeing things the way Jesus sees them, I think I would suffer a lot less angst.

Monday, April 1, 2013

A confession

I have sort of a tradition of fasting from Facebook during Lent.

As people use Facebook messaging more and more in place of email, that becomes harder and harder to do.  Sometimes I do go on Facebook during Lent if I need to send a message to someone whose email I do not have... 

I may fast from something other than Facebook next year.

But anyway, this year I fasted from Facebook during Lent.

And I finished reading through the Bible on Good Friday.

That didn't turn out so well.

Finishing reading through the Bible right at the time when I was free to go back onto Facebook has not behooved my personal discipline.


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

My goal

This is how I would like to be, in my whole heart, someday, by the grace of God:

But I am like an olive tree
     flourishing in the house of God;
I trust in God's unfailing love
     for ever and ever.
          ~Psalm 52:8

Monday, March 25, 2013


I haven't been writing so much here, but I am doing great on my reading through the Bible.

During 2012, I had been keeping right on schedule to read all the way through the Bible in one year and finish on December 31.  This would have been the 4th or 5th time I read through the Bible, but it would have been the very first time I had accomplished it in a year.

God likes to keep His children humble.

When I got a job this past fall, it seriously affected my ability to keep up with my Bible reading schedule.

When I was unable to keep up with my job due to health and family issues and needed to resign, I got back on track with my personal Bible reading.  I think it is amazing the way this worked out:  I will finish on Good Friday next week.

Often as I read, I have a thought and want to come here and write about it.  However, the realities of life are keeping me from much writing.  God is in control.  If He wants me to write something, He will provide everything I need: inspiration, motivation and time.

In the meantime, the circumstances of my life are moving me to pray.  A lot.  And something interesting has happened to my prayer life... God has been convicting me of fretting.  I tend to fret quite a lot.  Often my prayers are simply an expression of the fretting that goes on in my head and heart.  But God has brought to mind a passage:

Matthew 6:7-8 (NIV--Jesus speaking)
"And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words.  Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him."

I do not need to keep asking God for the same things over and over.  He heard the first time.  He always hears, and He never forgets.

I do not need to worry that God will not take care of me, or that He will neglect a detail because I did not mention it to Him.  He is in control; I am not.

My Father in Heaven knows everything.  He knows everything in the past, the present and the future.  He is perfect in wisdom and never makes a mistake.  He is on my side, and He has more than enough power always to bring His perfect will to pass.  This is my God, and Jesus tells me that He knows what I need before I ask Him.

When I pray, Jesus brings this passage to my mind first.  Then I start praying through The Lord's Prayer:  "My Father in heaven, holy is Your Name."  This gets me thinking about who He is and what He is like, which leads me to pray through the attributes of God.  Alphabetically, the first one I always come to is, "God is Able."  God is able.

God is able.

Often, that is enough, right there.  How I love Him.

Friday, March 8, 2013

One for me

I have a nasty habit of venting.  I feel that I have the right (I don't, but sometimes our feelings get in the way; at least sometimes mine do).

This morning God gave me a gentle spank...

Proverbs 29:11
A fool gives full vent to his spirit,
    but a wise man quietly holds it back.

Duly chastised.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Jesus speaking?

Every day, my Bible reading plan has me start with about two or three Proverbs.

I've been agonizing over something, avoiding it, dreading it.  I've been praying, "Lord, you don't really want me to do this, do you?"  This morning I prayed, "Lord, if you really want me to do this, please make it crystal clear."

The first Proverb in my reading today was Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)  --
"Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue."

I thought, "Really God?  Could you really mean this for me?"

A few days ago, I was reading in CJ Mahaney's book, Humility: True Greatness.  I picked it up thinking, "Time for a little self-flagellation.  I need to pound my pride down."  I opened the book at random, and the section I opened to was about using our words humbly.  I thought, "Yes, this is exactly what I need.  I am very tempted to use words, and I probably am not humble about it."  As I read, however, the book addressed the need to sometimes confront and correct.  It did not associate confrontation and correction with pride.  It said that when you confront and correct, you need to use the gospel.

I did not have any idea how to apply the gospel to this situation.

Then I had an idea:  because of the gospel, we have hope.  The problem is our sinful hearts, selfish hearts, prideful hearts.  But because of Jesus, because He died for us and afterwards sent His Spirit to live in us, there is hope, a certain hope, that He can change our hearts and fill us with peace and joy.  He not only can, He will.

"And I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of of Jesus Christ."  Philippians 1:6 (ESV) ...This also just happened to be part of my daily scripture reading.

It was really good for me to read Philippians today.   We should all read Philippians more often than we do.  It isn't very hard to understand, and every chapter is full of graspable, applicable spiritual truth.

"And my God will supply every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.  To our God and Father be glory forever and ever.  Amen." ~Philippians 4:19-20 (ESV)

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another thing God is able to do...

God is able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever.  Amen.

(from Ephesians 3:20-21)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

God is able

God is able to strengthen you.
~Romans 16:25

God is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you blameless before the presence of His glory with great joy.
~Jude 1:24

God is able to deliver you (even from the burning fires of a furnace, or from the hand of a powerful king).
~Daniel 3:17

God is able to bless you abundantly so that you have all that you need to complete His calling for your life.
~2 Corinthians 9:8

God is able to save you completely (Some versions say that He is able to save you to the uttermost.  I love that.)

~Hebrews 7:25

Also check out this post.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

A little bit of pride

We are all prideful.

1 John 1:8 says, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (ESV)

I maintain that pride is the root of almost all sin.  The remaining sin stems from fear.  Our pride and our fear are the two things that lead us into every other sin that we commit, and actually, both fear and pride are rooted in selfishness.  We sin either because we pridefully assume that we deserve something, or because we fear that we will miss out on something, and these are, at the core, the same thing anyway.

Take Eve.  She sinned because of both pride and fear.  She pridefully assumed that she deserved to be like God, and she feared that she might miss out on something if she did not eat the forbidden fruit.  Thus, original sin was born.

Sin is putting faith in oneself instead of in God.  Selfishness.  Pride.  Unbelief.

Here is an aside:  I think it is strange the way we discuss our physical ailments.  We describe in detail the horrors of a hospital visit, or a surgery, or a virus that we suffered.  We compare notes, offer and take advice about treatments, preventions, and good doctors.  We pray for the sick all the time.  All the time.

However (aside continued), we do not ever talk about our struggles with sin.  Even with our best, most trusted friends, we rarely (possibly never) sit down and have a heart to heart talk about the sin we suffer.  If we do bring up our sin, it is usually accompanied by a lot of hand-patting and self-justification, rationalization.  Pride enables us to turn a blind eye to the very sin it induces us to commit.

Pride is a very, very difficult thing to conquer.

Pride is also sticky because you can't beat it while you focus on it.  To say, "I am not prideful.  I am working hard to overcome my pride," is like saying, "I am not thinking about that vase on the table.  Not going to think about the vase on the table.  Putting the image of that vase on the table right out of my mind."  It's impossible.  Uriah Heep, from David Copperfield, is literature's best example of the conundrum of pride and humility.  Over and over, Uriah Heap tells people how "umble" he is.  Of course, he is not humble at all, but full of pride, greed, and vice.  Watch out for anyone who goes around telling you that he's humble.  Just saying.

Once I heard a sermon about how to deal with an addiction to pornography (this is going somewhere, don't worry).  The pastor said that once those images are burned into one's mind, it is nearly impossible to get rid of them: the more one tries not to think about them, the more they appear in the mind's eye.  The pastor taught that instead of focusing on the improper images, the best way to battle the problem is to focus on the Lord, on scripture, on memorizing Bible verses and filling ("overwriting") the mind with other things:

"Finally brother, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things."  (Philippians 4:8, ESV)

I think the same strategy applies to pride.  Rather than trying to combat pride directly, we need to focus on God.  The more we think about God, the more our hearts begin to change.

First, as we focus on God, we start to realize how small we are in comparison to Him, how insignificant and inconsequential, how powerless and unremarkable.

"When I look at the heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?"  (Psalm 8:3-4, ESV)

"Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth!  For I am God and there is no other.  By myself I have sworn; from my mouth has gone out in righteousness a word that shall not return:  'To me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear allegiance.'  Only in the Lord, it shall be said of me, are righteousness and strength; to Him shall come and be ashamed all who were incensed against Him.  In the Lord all the offspring of Israel shall be justified and shall glory."  (Isaiah 45:22-23, ESV)

Second, as we focus on God, we ultimately stop thinking about ourselves at all.  This cannot happen while we are thinking about it; that's the truly uncomfortable part of it.  For instance, in writing about pride, I myself am full of it.  The only time we truly have pride licked is when we are not aware of it at all.  Unfortunately, the same is true for when pride has completely licked us: we are blind to that condition, and also unaware.  Even unawareness does not guarantee that we have successfully dealt with our pride.

The remedy is to look back to the Lord.  We must constantly look to Him.

"To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!  Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God, till He has mercy upon us."  (Psalm 123:2. ESV)

How do I know when I am full of pride?  Here are some warning signs:
  1. I am sure that I am right, and that someone else is categorically wrong.  This means that I am failing to consider someone else's point of view.  In a conflict, I must always take the time to think through the other person's point of view, and to give the person the benefit of the doubt as I try to figure it out.
  2. I am convinced that I "have the right."  If I find myself struggling and fighting to preserve "my rights," I am probably in bad shape.  Philippians 2 is all about how Jesus, who had "the right" more than anyone else ever did, laid all His rights down in obedience to the Father.  Grasping for personal rights has no place in a humble heart.  This is hard.  Additionally, it requires a lot of wisdom, because we are also called to be wise as serpents (Matthew 10:16) and to stand firm for what is right.  We are not called to be doormats.  However, being able to discern between the righteousness that pleases God and "my rights" is well nigh impossible when pride is involved.
  3. I am disdainful of someone else.  Disdain can wear many faces.  I can be disdainful of someone who does not know the proper way to behave, but I can just as easily be disdainful of someone who (according to my judgment) is overly concerned about the proper way to behave.  Feeling empowered to judge someone else is a sure warning sign for pride.  Sometimes we don't even realize that we are judging someone else, because we are busy judging him for judging us, feeling defensive.  It is all tremendously messy and complicated.  This is a subject for another day.
Yes, I am struggling with some pride.  I need to look to Jesus and ask for help.  I need to remember my place and show love.  Talk about difficult and messy.

"...Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for 'God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.'  Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because he cares for you."  (1 Peter 5:5b-7, ESV)

"...But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word."  (Isaiah 66:2b)