The brand of pride that most often plagues my heart is one that spills over in the words, “Yeah, I know that.” Like one of the cool kids that wants everyone to know they saw that movie and heard that band long before they went mainstream, there is a sinful tendency in me to want others to be aware that I was already aware of whatever they are trying to make me aware of.

And it’s not just information, as if all I want is for everyone to think I’m smart (though I do). It can also surface when my wife kindly asks me to do something, and the first thing I say is, “Yeah, I was just getting ready to do that.” I want her to know how proactive and helpful I am. I want to get credit for choosing to complete the stated task even before I was asked.

And then this past Sunday evening at church, as I was thinking on these things, one of our elders helped to reveal another area where this pride crops up. Very often while listening to a sermon or participating in a group discussion around God’s word, my heart and mind are less concerned with learning and growing and more consumed with all of things people are saying that I believe I have already figured out. Rather than being teachable, I want people to think that I am learned.

So, what to do? As I’ve been thinking about this phenomenon, I have a few ideas. Maybe you’re in the same boat as me and these will prove helpful. One is to simply bite my tongue. Why do I need to let everyone know what I know? There are times to justify ourselves or reveal knowledge we have, but there are plenty of times when it is completely unnecessary. So I want to discern when it is necessary or helpful and when it is pride. Help me, Holy Spirit!

Another weapon against this species of pride that I’ve been thinking through is to seek out opportunities to say, “I didn’t know that.” How pride-killing it is to point out someone else’s keen insight, to rejoice at some new knowledge you’ve received from a friend, or to simply say, “You just used a vocabulary word that I have never heard of – what does insipid mean?” So when someone in conversation says, “You probably already know this,” and follows those words with something I was previously oblivious to, I want to be quick to say, “I didn’t know that.”

And when you and I think we know it all, it is helpful to consider the All-knowing God. To remember that he knows more about the hairs on my own head than I do. To meditate on the staggering truth that he can say to every piece of information revealed in the world, not to mention those things hidden beyond the scope of human knowledge, “Yeah, I know that.” Nothing kills pride like staring long at the majesty of God.

Great is our Lord and abundant in strength; His understanding is infinite. (Ps. 147:5)

Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O LORD, you know it altogether. (Psalm 139:4)

So may we pray with Hannah the words of 1 Samuel 2:2-3:

There is no one holy like the LORD,
Indeed, there is no one besides You,
Nor is there any rock like our God.
Boast no more so very proudly,
Do not let arrogance come out of your mouth;
For the LORD is a God of knowledge,
And with Him actions are weighed.

We know when it’s time to get dinner on the table – when our kids begin to scrounge. That’s what we call it: “The kids are scrounging.” Of course, it seems like they’re always rummaging around, scavenging for food, hiding under the table with a box of cereal, shoving it into their mouths by handfuls. They eat like Hobbits – breakfast, second-breakfast, elevensies, and on throughout the day. I promise you, we feed them. It feels like we are constantly feeding them.

And so I have in different words spoken the statement that every parent must: “You’re going to spoil your dinner.” Come by our house at 5pm and you will hear, “No you cannot have that chip or this piece of candy or another snack – we are eating in 20 minutes.” We’ve learned – if they scrounge too much, they won’t eat the food we want them to eat.

All of this counsel given to my children came home to me today as I read from A Hunger for God by John Piper. He writes:

If you don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the great. God did not create you for this. There is an appetite for God. And it can be awakened. I invite you to turn from the dulling effects of food and the dangers of idolatry, and to say with some simple fast: “This much, O God, I want you” (23).

There are days that I scrounge all day. Sometimes I fulfill all my longings and find my joy in food and sweets and good coffee. Or I look for rest and pleasure in my computer or a bit of television. I often feel the deep need to fill my ears with music. I rummage around, nibbling on countless things – mostly good, God-given things. But things that slowly crowd out and squelch my hunger for God. And so I don’t long for him like I should. I’m not hungry for what my soul truly desires and needs to eat. I have often spoiled my appetite for the glory of God by an incessant snacking on the world. And as full as I may be, I am not satisfied.

God has not only given us gifts to enjoy; he has given us gifts so that we can joyful abstain from them and allow our hearts to be satisfied with Him alone. So get out from under the table with the box of Cinnamon Life and seek satisfaction in the feast God has laid out for us in Jesus, the Bread of Life.

Proverbs 15:16-17 says, “Better a little with the fear of the LORD than great wealth with turmoil. Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.” In his book The Joy of Fearing God, Jerry Bridges shares this wonderful and tender application of the truth of these verses:

The priority of love over possessions was brought home to me deeply and poignantly some ten years ago. My wife of twenty-five years was dying of cancer. We had been on the staff of a Christian organization all our married lives, and our income had usually hovered around barely adequate. If we went out to eat, it was to Burger King or the local cafeteria. We seldom had discretionary income.

Two things we did have lots of, though, were love and fun. My wife had elected to be a full-time, stay-at-home mom. She spent hours with the children when they were small, and after they were in school she never missed a game or scholastic event in which they participated. When I left for the office each morning, she always stood at the door to wave a loving good-bye. Our standard of living could have been described as “a meal of vegetables.” But we had lots of love, and we enjoyed life.

With this history of twenty-five years of love and the realization that my wife was probably dying, I came across Proverbs 15:16-17 one day in my Bible reading. As I read, I wept for joy. I wrote in the margin of my Bible, “Thank you, Father, for a home with love.”

My wife has now been with the Lord for ten years, but still today “her children arise and call her blessed” (Proverbs 31:28). There is joy in fearing God and in the wisdom that comes from it.

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Psalm 128

How blessed is everyone who fears the LORD,
Who walks in His ways.
When you shall eat of the fruit of your hands,
You will be happy and it will be well with you.
Your wife shall be like a fruitful vine
Within your house,
Your children like olive plants
Around your table.
Behold, for thus shall the man be blessed
Who fears the LORD.
The LORD bless you from Zion,
And may you see the prosperity of Jerusalem all the days of your life.
Indeed, may you see your children’s children.
Peace be upon Israel!

Since most everyone who reads this blog has some kind of personal connection to my family and me, I wanted to use this post to provide a quick “life update from the Sabakas.” Many of you have been praying for us as we have been seeking out God’s next steps for our family, and, in the last month, he has made his will clear. So, here’s the story as briefly as I can put it.

In August of this past year, I spent my last day as the Associate Pastor of a church and a flock that I had done my best to love and help lead for 3 years. The decision to make such a move was mutual between myself and the elders of the church – elders who I still respect and care for – and my leaving was not owing to any moral failure or sin issue, but what we summed up best as “philosophy of ministry differences.” The decision, in some ways, was the result of discussions that had happened for over a year and a half, and yet it was also a decision that my wife and I came to see in a single afternoon. It was difficult for everyone, and I struggled with whether or not it was the right decision for weeks and months after it was made. Yet God has brought us peace, and I know now that it was a choice he led us into.

After that decision was made, we did our best to leave well, and were helped immensely in that task by the transparency and support of the church and its leadership. I had seen and heard of people leaving poorly, as many of us have, and Andrea and I wanted more than anything to leave with grace and love, doing no damage to the church or the name of Christ, but rather modeling the truth of the gospel. We were far from perfect in the process, but, by God’s grace, we believe Jesus was glorified in it.

Since our last Sunday there, Andrea and I have been seeking God’s direction for our lives. We have wrestled hard with how God would have us serve his church next. We spoke with many friends and a few strangers, seeking wisdom from anyone God brought across our path. I sent resumes out, made phone calls, and ate many breakfasts and lunches with some amazing men of God, all of which God used to reveal my heart for the next ministry he was going to take us into. I talked with churches filled with beautiful, God-fearing men and women seeking a pastor to lead them. I was blessed by the opportunity to visit and preach at many churches in the area I currently live, and it was a joy to serve the people and pastors of these places. My family also grew to love a church down the road from us, where my kids participated in their inaugural Christmas program and I sat under caring, Bible-centered elders when we were not serving somewhere else. I even took a seasonal job that lasted 2 days – 2 humbling, educational days.

In all of this, we have learned much – some of which we are aware of and much of which we are not. These months have been filled with many happy times, as our family was able to be together often, and yet this time has been harder than we ever thought it would be. Our uncertainty and wrestling have shaken every aspect of our lives – our marriage, our parenting, our understanding of the church, and more – and we have been graciously forced to become more and more dependent on Christ.

And now, in what is our loving Father’s perfect timing, we are being ushered out of this season of uncertainty into the next stretch of our journey.

Despite all of the resumes sent and phone calls made, God used our Christmas letter to reconnect us with the church we attended during my time in seminary. My friend Mark, who is a member and elder at the church, called in January after reading of what God was doing in our lives and asked if I was interested in pastoring in Louisville, Kentucky. We all prayed, and after a trip to speak with the elders about possibilities and to preach on a Sunday morning, we all came to agree that God was leading us to pursue the possibility of me (re)joining Grace Fellowship Church, this time as their Senior Pastor. After a few more visits and conversations, it become clear that this was the direction God was leading. On March 27th the church voted to extend a call to me as their next senior pastor, and I humbly and joyfully accepted.

Throughout this entire process, God has encouraged my heart with Psalm 115:3 – “Our God is in heaven; he does whatever he pleases.” Coupled with that, I have been encouraged by the truth that, in light of the cross, whatever God does, however he does it, and whenever he does it, he can be fully trusted as a good, loving, and gracious Father – “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:32) And so we have walked this part of our journey, trusting God’s hand, though often crying out, “Lord I believe, but please help my unbelief!”

So we are moving to Louisville, Kentucky! We went down there last week, and God provided us with a wonderful house to rent, complete with some built-in bookshelves and a beautiful backyard. Our plan is to pack up a truck the week after Easter and head south to join a group of believers that we already dearly love, and, by God’s grace and through his strength, I’ll join in leading Grace Fellowship Church in continuing to glorify God by shining forth the truth of the gospel to our area. We still need to find someone to rent our condo in Mokena*, and it seems like there are a thousand steps between now and us finally moving, but we know it will all happen very quickly. It’s all very surreal and hard to believe, but such is the way God works.

Many of you have prayed for us and supported us throughout the past months, and we are extremely thankful to God for each of you. God’s grace has been evident in our lives, very often through our friends and family, and we know that his goodness is pursuing us as we follow him into this new endeavor. If you think of it, please continue to pray for us – yes, for the renting of our condo and the move, but even more for God to be glorified as we serve him at Grace Fellowship Church.

O taste and see that the LORD is good;
How blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
O fear the LORD, you His saints;
For to those who fear Him there is no want.
The young lions do lack and suffer hunger;
But they who seek the LORD shall not be in want of any good thing.

Psalm 34:8-10

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* If you or someone you know might be interested in renting a 2 bedroom, 2 bath condo in Mokena, please get a hold of Andrea or me. It really is a great home – only about 5 years old, refrigerator, oven, dishwasher, washer/dryer hookups, and lots of windows. We have two parking spaces in the heated garage, and the building has an elevator and is within walking distance of the Metra. There’s even a new candy/ice cream shop in one of the commercial spots on the first floor! If you’re interested, you can email me at andy.sabaka AT gmail DOT com.

The Karate Kid was my sick day movie. If I ever wound up staying home from school because of illness, I almost always watched it. The choice was obvious between popping in the Karate Kid VHS or having to watch Little House on the Prairie reruns, which seemed to always be on. As a kid, my favorite scene was, of course, the championship fight at the end. You know, the music building to a crescendo, the crowd cheering. Daniel comes back after it seemed that his Cobra Kai induced knee injury was going to leave him down for the count. “Sweep the leg.” “Get him a body bag.” Daniel goes into crane-kick formation, kicks Johnny in the face, and is carried off the mat by a throng of cheering fans, calling out triumphantly, “We did it Mr. Miyagi!” Miyagi looks on with an approving smile. Fade to black. It’s cinematic genius.

I still love the ending, but I have a new favorite scene. The quick background is that Mr. Miyagi had agreed to teach Daniel karate, but up to this point in the film, all we have seen Mr. Miyagi do is burden Daniel with home improvement tasks: wax the cars, sand the floor, and paint the fence. After having spent his day painting Mr. Miyagi’s house, Daniel is fed up, and angrily demands that Miyagi begin teaching him karate or he’s walking. That’s when Mr. Miyagi connects the dots for young Daniel-san:

Again, cinematic genius. And what a teacher! Daniel, without ever knowing it, had been trained to be a lean, mean, crane-kicking machine… and Miyagi had spruced up his house for free!

I’ve thought about that scene a lot, which is somewhat strange, but I think we have all felt like Daniel and angrily wondered what all of the everyday, mundane, frustrating, and difficult times in life are for. When is the real training going start? When am I going to learn how to fight? I often long for times of great growth – concentrated times of training and learning and growing. And those times certainly come and are certainly helpful. But it would seem that God, in his great wisdom as a master teacher, has chosen to train us through the everyday tasks of life that we often grow to hate – wax the cars, paint the fence, sand the floor, paint the house, go to work, watch the kids, clean the house, visit family, unclog the drain, get the oil changed, make dinner, do the dishes, and so on. If these things are superfluous and simply fodder for frustration, than 95% of life is fruitless activity!

But they are not fruitless. In them God is training us and shaping us and molding us into his image, not just in the times we are blessed to spend with him in his word or even in formal study, but in all the stuff of life that we wish we could be done with. Where else could we walk with him and learn patience, love, mercy, and so many other fruits of the Spirit? And it is as we learn these every moment lessons, as we train our spiritual muscles in the midst of life, that God prepares us for the greatest fights of life. Unless we fully engage in the everyday, mundane, frustrating, and difficult times God gives us, we will never be prepared for the moments of great trial and triumph that God places before us.

And even if we never experience a “crane-kick-for-the-win” moment in our lives, we can take comfort in looking to the glory to come:

Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal. (2 Cor. 4:16-18)

May God grant us grace to not despise the things of life that are so easy to despise, but to embrace them as gifts from the sovereign hand of the Master Teacher, who is always training us and purifying us for the sake of his glory.

This past weekend, one my best friends, Nate Wolf, and I took on one of the greatest challenges known to man: teaching a large group of Jr. High Students. Another friend from my days at Moody Bible Institute, Jason, had asked me to teach at a weekend winter camp, known as Blizzard. I had done it once before back in 2006, so I knew what I was getting into, and this time I knew that to go it alone was probably not wise. It’s not the students – the students have always been great, eager to listen to God’s Word. But it is a weekend of long nights and physical activity, so it’s not surprising if the speaker nods off during his own talk, let alone the listeners.

So I invited Nate to join me, and we decided to talk about what Scripture has to say about friendship. Our hope was to not only talk about friendship, but to model, through past stories and our interactions during the week, what a true, deep, God-honoring friendship looks like. Of course, our friendship is far from perfect, and I was encouraged in my personal study of God’s Word and in our discussions before, during and after, to be more diligent about being a good friend to my wife and to others in my life. But I would also say that God has been amazingly gracious to us, and I believe that much of our friendship is something to be emulated. When it was all said and done Sunday morning, I was excited to see that we not only communicated God’s heart for friendship, but that the students saw a “flesh and blood” example of the gift that good friends can be.

Yet whatever kind of example the friendship Nate and I have may be, throughout the weekend, in all four sessions that we taught, our hope was to always point the students back to the fact that the gospel is where true friendship is revealed and that the gospel is the only thing that can empower a person to be a true friend. As I studied John 15:12- 17 for our third session, where Jesus reveals that He has chosen us to be His friends, I began to ask the question, “Why? Why has God in Jesus chosen us to be His friends?” From the testimony of Scripture we know that it wasn’t because He was lonely or because there was anything desirable or good in us. We as humans may choose friends because we desire companionship and because we see something likable or attractive in someone else, but neither of those can be reasons why God has chosen us to be His friends.

John’s gospel began to both confuse and enlightening me as to answering the question of why God has chosen us to be His friends. Confusion arose from John 15:14, where Jesus appears to lay out a condition for his friendship, namely the keeping of his commands: “You are my friends, if you do what I command.” So is obedience to the law a requirement for being Jesus’ friends? And what about the verse prior that says there is no greater love seen in the world than when a person lays down his or her life for a friend? Has Jesus only died for those who will keep his commands, given that obedience seems to be a condition for friendship?

Romans 5:6-8 began to bring some loose ends together:  “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.”

The answer to the “why” question begins to emerge, and it is this: God has chosen us to be his friends through the means of the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross in order to display to the world a kind of love and grace that we know nothing of. We are in awe of our fellow humans when they die for the sake of a friend – Jesus tells us in John 15:13 that apart from the miracle of redemption, this is the greatest love we can have or see in our fellow humans. But Romans 5 then shows us that there is a kind of love that drives a man to die a horrendous death for the sake of his enemies, and it is that kind of love that shatters all the categories of love that we can fathom. Such love is on display in the cross, and we see then that God has chosen us to be his friends for the sake of his glory.

The amazing overflow of that display of love is that God then makes that kind of a love possible in his chosen friends – he makes us another means of revealing this other-worldly love. John 15:14 then must mean that obedience to his commands is an overflow of friendship with Jesus, not a condition for it. If it was a condition, we would all remain his enemies, but Jesus is saying, “Those whom I have chosen as my friends show evidence of that reality by doing as I command.” And what has he commanded? He has commanded love – love for God and for others. Specifically in this context, Jesus proclaims, “This is my commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you” (15:12; see also 15:17).

Jesus in the gospel empowers us to be a unique people who love as he has loved. We are called to not only love those we like, but to love our enemies. We love them even to the point of death, as Jesus has loved us. It is in loving others in such a radical, self-sacrificing, unselfish way, that we continue to display for the world the unfathomable love of Jesus – a love that led him to die for those who were his enemies so he could make them, not only friends, buts sons and daughters of God. When we love empowered by the gospel and spurred on by the example of Jesus, we shatter the world’s categories for love as Jesus did. We take friendship to a level that those who do not know of the sacrifice of Christ can hardly fathom. And in so doing, we exalt God as the greatest Friend and Father imaginable. As we rely on the strength God supplies, may our friendships, coupled with our love for our enemies, be living examples of the gospel.

One of my favorite Christmas songs is “Christmas in the Trenches” by John McCutcheon (see video below). As a young adult around this time of year, one of my sisters or I would ask to hear it, and my dad would alternately fast forward and rewind the tape he had the song on until it was found, and we would silently listen to it. I’m sure there are political undertones that could be taken from the lyrics, but that’s far from what I take from it. As I’ve listened to it this year through the gift of YouTube, I’ve thought of two things:

  1. It has reminded me of the many men and women who are away from home this Christmas, and even those who have met the same situation in times past, serving in the armed forces. I am thankful for them and their families and the sacrifices they make on my behalf, and I pray for their safe return.
  2. Christmas is truly about God sending Jesus to bring peace on earth by crushing the power of sin and death, which he has. And yet that peace will be fully realized when Jesus returns a second time to set all things right and rid the world of sin once and for all. May we long for the glorious second coming of Jesus as we remember his humble first coming.

1Then a shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,
And a branch from his roots will bear fruit.
2The Spirit of the LORD will rest on Him,
The spirit of wisdom and understanding,
The spirit of counsel and strength,
The spirit of knowledge and the fear of the LORD.
3And He will delight in the fear of the LORD,
And He will not judge by what His eyes see,
Nor make a decision by what His ears hear;
4But with righteousness He will judge the poor,
And decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth;
And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth,
And with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
5Also righteousness will be the belt about His loins,
And faithfulness the belt about His waist.
6And the wolf will dwell with the lamb,
And the leopard will lie down with the young goat,
And the calf and the young lion and the fatling together;
And a little boy will lead them.
7Also the cow and the bear will graze,
Their young will lie down together,
And the lion will eat straw like the ox.
8The nursing child will play by the hole of the cobra,
And the weaned child will put his hand on the viper’s den.
9They will not hurt or destroy in all My holy mountain,
For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the LORD
As the waters cover the sea.

Isaiah 11:1-9