Friday, March 27, 2015

Idolatry by Any Other Name is Still Idolatry

Dan 4:34  At the end of the days I, Nebuchadnezzar, lifted my eyes to heaven, and my reason returned to me, and I blessed the Most High, and praised and honored him who lives forever, for his dominion is an everlasting dominion, and his kingdom endures from generation to generation; Dan 4:35  all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, and he does according to his will among the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand or say to him, "What have you done?"

We all know that we were created to honor God and to love him supremely and find all that he is to be our fulfillment in life.  Idolatry is putting anything before our worship and love for the Lord.  Idolatry was rampant in the OT and God deals with it as much as anything and that was this that led to Israel’s downfall as much as any other sin.  Often the commentators speak of how the Babylonian captivity cured Israel of idolatry once and for all. 

If we think of idolatry in general terms that might be so as they no longer overtly worshipped gods other than Yahweh.  But if we think of idolatry as putting your own desires above the Lord then we find idolatry to be a sin that all struggle with as did the Jews of Jesus’s day.  I think of the Pharisee who prayed in a self-righteous way, boasting that he wasn’t as bad as the poor tax collector next to him and went home as sinful and unjustified as he came.

His main problem was that he had a view of God that was skewed.  He thought that the God he worshipped was the kind of God that would gladly accept his miserable works as good enough to get on God’s good side.  Because he had in a sense redefined God he committed idolatry and he did so to his own damnation.

Thus defined, we see that idolatry is rampant today and this is true even in many churches and hearts of saints.  We can illustrate this by the example of the young man who writes a love letter to a young woman he loves.  In it he describes her beautiful blond hair and lovely blue eyes and all the things about her that he loves.  But the problem is that she is a brunette with brown eyes and he is describing someone who isn’t anything like the woman he supposedly loves.  We all know that this woman would not find this to be acceptable.  It is like him saying I love you but I wish you looked like your sister! 

It is very easy to fall into this trap when it comes to God and this is why theology is of the utmost importance.  Many people read the Bible not so they can get to know God and find out all the reasons he is to be loved and worshipped but to find something helpful for some problem they are going through or how to succeed in life or some such self-centered thing.  Very often we come to the Scriptures with preconceived notions that we hold to and have no plans of letting go of regardless of what we find in the Bible.

This is especially problematic when it comes to how we understand God.  How many people do you know who refuse to acknowledge that God is sovereign over all things or that he is a holy God who will punish sin eternally in Hell?  Instead they want to think of God as a loving softy who only wants us to be happy, wealthy, healthy and successful.  So they ignore those attributes of God that they don’t like and concentrate on the ones they like and necessarily make up ones that don’t exist.  Like the man in our example, they extol things about God that are not true or are so one sided that they end up describing some other god; the one that exists in their minds.  This is idolatry. 

These thoughts came to me as I am preaching through 2 Cor. 1 and in particular where it describes God as the God of all comfort.  The Lord comforts us by the truth of the gospel and by explaining to us why afflictions come and our duty in them and that being in Christ will one day bring them to an end; in others words primarily through thinking through truth. 

If we refuse to acknowledge that God sends trials for our good and that they are part of the Christian’s duty in life to endure hardships as a good soldier of Jesus Christ and instead we spend all our time praying for him to take them away and are discontent and bitter when he doesn’t then we have reformulated God into something he is not.  We have made him there for us and not us there for him; we have rejected his sovereign rule over all things and have rejected his explanation and commit idolatry.  We say we love him but when he tells us what pleases him we have no desire to prove our love by obeying.

Properly responding to affliction by being faithful and patient in a God honoring way is worshipping God as he is.  And therefore, responding to affliction in an unbiblical way is to worship the God of our imagination.  We have looked at God’s picture as seen in the Bible and we don’t like what we see and so we “tweak” God to make him a little more to our liking.  And then we go to church and sing praises to him while all along thinking about his “sister” so to speak.  

I know that we will spend our entire lives studying God’s attributes and trying to better understand what he “looks” like and we will always have a somewhat defective understanding until we stand before him some day.  But to deliberately reject what is plainly taught in the Bible is a dangerous game because God doesn’t change; he is what he is and we had better get used to it because he is righteous and we are not.  If there is something about God that is uncomfortable to us then we have a problem and we need to ask God to give us a love for who he is not for who we wish he was.  

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Living For Others

Est 5:1 On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace. Est 5:2 And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight…

Rom 14:7 For none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself.

As I am going through Esther right now, I actually made a connection between these two passages.  Let me try to explain.  Esther needed something very important from her husband the king.  In this case it was the deliverance of the Jewish people throughout his kingdom who were about to be slaughtered.  So she dresses up in such a way that would hopefully gain his favor so he would let her approach him.  We might say she knew how to work him to get what she wants which can have a bad connotation.

We call this manipulation and as a husband I am all too familiar with it.  Not because my wife does it but because of my own sinful tendency to be especially nice to her when I want something from her.  We are all born quite adept at doing this and children exhibit it at an extremely early age.  When our interactions with others are mostly defined by what we can get from them and not what we can do for them, this is manipulation and it is sin.

I think we can say that what Esther is doing is a form of manipulation but the circumstances are dire and so she does whatever she can to gain access to the king and I certainly wouldn’t see this as sinful.  But what it did make me think of was that there is a sense in which we are to do what we can to please each other and it isn’t manipulation.  If I dress in such a way that pleases my wife, or go shopping with her when I would rather do something else, it doesn’t have to be because she is manipulating me or that I am manipulating her.  It could be and should be that I love her and so I do what I can to please her with no thoughts of getting something in return.  In fact, that is the very definition of love. 

As Americans we sometimes buy into the idea that I do what I want, when I want; I dress how I want, eat what I want because no one can tell me what to do.  It is my right to not be controlled by someone else’s desires for me; no one can tell me what to do and on and on it goes.  The times when we stop and consider what someone might want us to do are rare and usually we consider it only if we want something from them.

But if you think about it, this is starting to get us to the point of Romans 14:7.  As Christians we are given life not to just use others for our ends but we are here to live for others and this begins with Christ.  So not only is there nothing wrong with me doing things to please my wife just because it pleases her or helps her out; this is actually what I have been called to do.  It is good for us to consider how others think about us; what are the things they think I should do because I have been put here on the same earth or in the same church or family and so I have to get along with them and work with them.  I cannot go around seeking only those things I want.  And letting others sometimes influence the things I do is not being manipulated; it is working together to build relationships and be profitable in the Kingdom of God.

When Esther got up that morning she had a plan and she dressed in such a way that would aid her in carrying out that plan.  She could have thought like we tend to and say, “I am going to dress how I want to because it shouldn’t matter how I dress. He should listen to what I have to say because it is important.”  She could have rushed into the throne room rashly but instead she thought things through and used her God given wisdom to figure out how best to work with her husband.
It was an important plan that would affect the people of God and her own future.  And this is my point.  As Christians we cannot afford to waltz through life without a plan.  There should be a reason for everything we do.  We have a purpose for life and so we are to figure out the best way to fulfill that purpose according to the Word of God. 

Countless lives have been ruined because they refused to take the time to consider the consequences of what they were about to do.  They were living in the moment -- what feels good now -- and didn’t think ahead.  They had no sense of purposeful living and they just did whatever they wanted to do that day with no thought of what Jesus wanted and no thought of how it might affect those around them.  This is pretty much living like an animal.

Oh, we have cleaned such living up by calling it, “being spontaneous”, “living in the moment”, “not getting tied down to routines”, etc.  But very often it is just masking the fact that we want to be free to live for ourselves and not be tied down to the responsibility that no one lives only to himself or dies only to himself.

I am all for spontaneity by the way.  But as Christians, life is too serious for us to be consumed with just living in the moment.  If you are saved you have a carefully laid out plan for your life and it is our duty to be students of the Word and figure out how to be wise as serpents in this present evil age.  Part of that is living to please and help each other.  It doesn’t mean we are to be controlled by others but that we are in the Lord’s army, we have common goals and no soldier can just decide he will fight the enemy on his own or in his own way.  We must live with others in mind.

We are to live with purpose, with planning and every decision we make must be made with more thought than just what happens to be in front of our noses at the time.  This is how a two year old lives, not mature adults.  This is why Paul could say, 1Co 9:26  So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 1Co 9:27  But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified

While some might want to think of this as hindering their lives, yet for the saint it is wonderful to know that we have purpose and meaning in everything we do.  And the little freedom we might give up in this life will give rise to unimaginable glory in the life to come.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Life's Lessons

Mar 6:48  And he saw that they were making headway painfully, for the wind was against them. And about the fourth watch of the night he came to them, walking on the sea. He meant to pass by them, Mar 6:49  but when they saw him walking on the sea they thought it was a ghost, and cried out, Mar 6:50  for they all saw him and were terrified. But immediately he spoke to them and said, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid." Mar 6:51  And he got into the boat with them, and the wind ceased. And they were utterly astounded.

The pericope of Jesus walking on the water is one of the most famous portions of Scripture there is.  Yet as in all accounts in the Bible it is related to us not that we can marvel at a really neat thing Jesus did but to teach us some extremely important life lessons; not the least of which is that we need to be astounded at God, not the creatures and forces he has made.

At the heart of this situation is that the disciples are in a trial, not because they were out of the Lord’s will, but precisely because they were being obedient.  This should stop us from assuming that when bad things happen to us either we are out of God’s will or it is his will that we not have difficulty; but for many these are the only two options they consider.  Neither was true in this case.

Paul Tripp makes a good point here when he says that as soon as Jesus stepped onto the water it was obvious that merely delivering the disciples from hardship was not important to him (my words).  If all Jesus was concerned about was helping the disciples escape tribulation he could have commanded the storm to stop from shore.  The above account helps us see what Jesus was really after. 

Their problem was not the storm; Jesus sent them straight into it.  Their problem was a heart problem; they feared the storm more than they feared and trusted in God.  What they needed and what we need is not to ignore the storms of life and act like they don’t exist but to be more astounded at Christ than the storms.  This is one reason why the Lord sends trials to begin with; to magnify himself in our eyes so that we stand in awe of him more than temporal things as he delivers us through them. 

While trials and hardships and sickness and such things are a result of the fall and shall one day be eradicated, we must be careful of seeing them as our enemies.  If Jesus can say to count it all joy when we meet various trials, then the effect they should have on our prayer life and on our emotional life and our spiritual life should be far different than they often are. 

David said it well, Psa 119:67  Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep your word. Psa 119:71  It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.  I heard John Piper say that more lose their faith during good times than in difficult times.  The more we make life about Christ, the better we will be able to endure affliction because we understand that our comfort or lack thereof is not what we are to pursue.  In this we will find comfort and peace because to have Christ is enough no matter what we might not have in this life.  Having Christ is far more important than having comfort and outward peace. 

This use of difficulty is furthered illustrated in the text from Mark when we read that Jesus intended to pass their boat by and not even help them.  Again, the storm was the least of their real problems.  When the crowd needed to be fed earlier that day they wanted to send them away to fend for themselves when Christ was right there to help them.  So Christ gives them a taste of their own medicine and puts them in the people’s shoes.  How did they like the Lord of Glory strolling by them while they feared for their lives?  What a marvelous lesson of humility and compassion.  Without a storm such lessons would be lost.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

The God of All Comfort

1Th 4:18  Therefore encourage one another with these words.

Joh 14:16  And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, Joh 14:17  even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.

Joh 14:26  But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.

In a couple of my recent articles I spoke of what it is to be led by the Spirit and how we need to avoid the tendency to think being led by the Spirit is primarily direct revelation or feelings.  Instead, it is primarily by following the Word with a heart that loves God above all else.  As I have just started preaching through the book of 2 Corinthians and the first main topic is comfort, I found myself making the same application when it comes to finding comfort in afflictions.

Just as we are often tempted to ask the Lord to just tell us what job to take or who to marry, etc. so when it comes to afflictions we can be tempted to pray that the Lord would comfort us and then sit back and wait to be comforted.  We need peace and so wait for feelings of peace; we need patience and so wait for a more patient frame of mind; we need our nerves to calm down and so wait for a “peaceful, easy feeling”.  But I think if we stop and think about this we see that it is not the general way the Bible teaches that we will be comforted. 

The error is that it is praying for something but not willing to exercise the means God has ordained to get what we need.  Yes, we are to pray for such things but we are not to presume that that is all we need to do; not when there are duties we have been given to find God’s comfort.  Yes, God is the God of all comfort but he primarily does this through the Holy Spirit applying truth to our thinking as we grow in our knowledge and understanding of the Word of God.  He comforts us because of what he has done for us and that being applied to our thinking.

Praying alone can be a lazy and presumptive approach to the Lord working in our minds in that it doesn’t do the work of listening to God and acting accordingly.  It doesn’t honor the Lord because it isn’t believing by faith that what the Lord says is true and find peace and calmness and patience in truth; it just wants the Spirit to bring calmness upon us much like a drug. 

If all we want is to not be anxious and to have a peaceful, easy feeling, then take a tranquilizer or smoke a joint or drink until it all goes away.  But if we want to honor the Lord, then take what he has done for you and the promises and meditate on them until it sinks in and be at peace and be patient because the Holy Spirit has caused you to believe and understand the Word and you are using it to live by. 

The world makes fun of us because they think we are using God as a crutch to get through life’s difficulties.  Of course, it is okay for them to use drugs, sex, and alcohol as a crutch.  But let us not be tricked into thinking we can use God like some use a joint; that we can just pray and he will magically bring peace and comfort upon us.  It comes through understanding what is going on in every situation.  God is working all things for an eternal weight of glory and he can do this because Christ has made peace between God and sinners.

It is as I come to more fully understand truths such as this one that I am able to find comfort.  Surely the Holy Spirit can bring about any emotion he wants to in our life, but we start to walk all around hyper-Calvinism when we assume he creates emotions and feelings apart from our pursuit of his Word.  We are not robots; we are people who have had their eyes opened to the glories of Christ and our own exceeding sinfulness.  Let us pursue holiness by loving Christ with all our hearts; not by praying the God will do everything for us.

Does not 2 Peter seem to suggest the same idea when he speaks of the attributes that come through the knowledge of Christ?  2Pe 1:2  May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. 2Pe 1:3  His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 2Pe 1:4  by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 2Pe 1:5  For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 2Pe 1:6  and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 2Pe 1:7  and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. 2Pe 1:8  For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.  

And then he ends the book with this: 2Pe 3:18  But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.  There just isn’t anything more important for a Christian.