Where Is Your Closest Idol?

An idol is anything you place between yourself and God. It’s something to which you pray and offer sacrifices. The Bible speaks of idols manufactured of wood, stone, silver and gold, but it doesn’t limit them to those materials. Idols can be of flesh and blood. Instead of the dumb idols of heathen religions, we hold idols such as money, possessions, property, vocations, recreation, power, and even loved ones, if we place a higher priority on them than on God. But possessing idols doesn’t stop there; if we spend more time primping before our mirrors than offering our heartfelt praise and petitions to the only living God, we have an idol. If the TV demands more of our time than ministering to our families, or helping others in need, we have an idol. The same could be said of gaming, shopping, or even working. If that is the case we may just have idols.

How can we pray and offer sacrifices to all those things? If we gain gratification from them in exchange for time offered to them, they may be our idols.

Please don’t think I’m trying to guilt trip you. I’m not suggesting that you have to live as a monk, constantly praying and reading your Bible. Not at all! I’m simply urging you to keep worldly pursuits and spiritual pursuits in balance. For instance, after a day’s work in the New Life Center thrift store … my sore feet prove it … I looked forward to just vegging with Netflix, but after watching one program I felt led to read today’s Our Daily Bread, which suggested this topic.

Am I “Saint James” for doing that? Hardly! I simply enjoyed a moment’s lucidity, motivated, I’m sure, by God’s Holy Spirit. He wanted to speak to me through the devotional which, in turn, motivated me to write this piece, preaching to myself all the while. I don’t know how to type with fingers pointed back at myself, but I’m trying (figuratively).

Don’t think that praying and offering sacrifices to yourself is always positive. I well know that engaging in negative self-talk, instead of asking God for positive change, can be a prayer of sorts. I also know that flagellating yourself emotionally can produce a perverse sort of self-gratification. I know because I spent many years doing just that, even after I offered my life to God through Jesus. Nothing can be a greater joy-kill than negative self-talk.

Our most devastating idols are the ones closest to us, because they make seeing beyond them well nigh impossible. Please, pray for God to open your eyes to all the idols in your life, then ask Him to give you the grace to strike them down. Only then will you gain power over them. God worked through prayer in the Old Testament, and He can work for you now.

Lord, Make Me a Francis

Randy Kilgore recounted the touching story of his last meeting with his friend, mentor and father in the faith, Francis Allen. I encourage you to click the link and read it, if you haven’t already done so.

Though I never met Francis Allen, I think of him as a model of Christ-likeness in his willingness to exhort others, to “round off some rough edges” of those he loved in Christ. But first, I must allow God to use a “Francis” to round off my rough edges.

I think a more apt image of myself, and any Christian-in-the-rough, would be that of a natural diamond, freshly dug from the earth. After having the mud washed away, it appears as a garden variety, crystalline stone. Only when the gem cutter makes the first, tentative cuts will its potential beauty and value appear. Along with that, however, will appear many imperfections deep within. The cutter will study the rough diamond to discover the true gem hidden there.

Finally, after much careful deliberation, he will firmly clamp the rough stone, line up a laser or a diamond saw (comprised of many microscopic diamond chips), and begin the laborious process of cutting away all of its impurities. When the cutter finishes the first cuts, he will examine the stone even more carefully, visualizing the final, multifaceted gem still hidden within the glittering stone.

The cut stone must still endure the grinding and polishing wheels that will form the facets necessary for the finished gem to most brilliantly reflect the light shined upon it. This is the most exacting aspect of the gem-cutter’s trade, for any error will ruin the stone, requiring the cutter to create a smaller, less valuable gem.

I’m sure you can appreciate the spiritual applications of the gem cutting process. Each step has an equivalent in our spiritual growth. My question is, do you have a Francis Allen in your life to serve as a tool for the Master Gem Cutter? If not, find one, or you will never reflect God’s light in all its brilliance and beauty.

Our Daily Bread, on Human Chess

Doesn’t the angry-looking little man above just rankle you? Even just a bit? Chances are, you see him as a bill-collector and nothing more. But maybe he’s just a kindly old grand dad who hates his job, from which he’s planning to retire next week, if people like you don’t give him a heart attack before then.

Bill Crowder, in today’s ODB, made a strong statement against Christ-followers using people. Even those of us who try to emulate our Savior sometimes fall into the trap of marginalizing those with whom we routinely do business, especially undesirable kinds of business.

I’m sure none who read this have to deal with tax auditors, bill collectors, or even difficult service people, but if you ever do, how would you relate to them? Would you deal with them in a friendly manner? Or would you treat them as functionaries, looking through them to the purpose you wish to accomplish.

This isn’t simply a theoretical principle for me, as I am in the midst of negotiations with my landlord regarding some issues of my own doing. I feel like avoiding confrontation, ignoring her as is my passive-aggressive tendency. But if I am to obey my Savior’s mandate to love my enemy—even though she isn’t my enemy—I must treat her with careful consideration. Honestly, this is hard for me, even though I like to project the image of a, “nice guy.”

We must remember that a person with duties and feelings resides behind every job-doer; whether he or she has to issue a traffic citation, a summons, or an eviction notice, that is a soul that needs to know Jesus’ love, and you or I may be the only Jesus they have ever met.

1 John 4:7-11 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 11 Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

12 No one has seen God at any time. If we love one another, God abides in us, and His love has been perfected in us.

Does that describe you and me? Or are we just playing games with the people for whom Jesus died?

The Weeping Prophet

So, here’s the story: Last night I went to bed with hopes of falling asleep without delay, but as I lay there communing with my Creator, I began praying for heart-holiness, both for myself and for His church. As often happens when I pray for Christ-likeness, I began weeping, and the more I contemplated the contrast between Christ and myself, the more my tears flowed. I heard myself sobbing, both from grief and gratitude; I felt a sense of the Holy Spirit’s grief about my soulish stubbornness, and unbearable gratitude for God’s grace despite my failure to apprehend the victory I have in Christ Jesus.

Then, this morning’s Our Daily Bread devotional cited Lamentations 3:1-6, 16-25, where the weeping prophet Jeremiah mourned Jerusalem’s destruction and the Jews’ subsequent captivity. So in typical fashion, I lumped both experiences into a single conceptual stew.

God is disciplining His church in much the same way that He disciplined His people Israel, albeit with His New Covenant grace.

  • As Jeremiah cried out warnings about Israel’s wandering ways, God’s New Testament writers warn His church about our own carnality.
  • As Israel ignored the prophet’s warnings, most of today’s church lie comfortably in our worldly affluence, enjoying our Sunday religious lift while snoring through our godly preachers’ warnings.
  • As Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, popular culture is destroying the institutional church.
  • As Babylon carried Israel’s intelligentsia into captivity, the world system is co-opting the church’s theologians.
  • As Babylon absorbed Israel into its own culture, the world system is defiling God’s church through our preoccupation with its entertainments, its trendy styles, and its pursuit of youthful image.

Though we have much reason to grieve, we have far more reason to rejoice; none of this surprises our omniscient God, and His plan for our triumph over the world system is, and always has been, in place. Yes, I still mourn for those of His church who will never awaken from their slumber, but I rejoice for the faithful remnant who heed His warnings, becoming incorruptible salt and prevailing light for this stale and dark world. Like God’s people Israel, the church’s exile is only temporary, and we have the Great Hope of our eternal homecoming, where our tears will cease and we will commune with our Lord Jesus face-to-face.

Faith’s Other Side

What’s bright is not always beneficial.

In today’s Our Daily Bread devotional, Mart DeHaan wrote about trusting God, and included a short poem by that famous Greek author, Anonymous.

Trust when your skies are darkening,
Trust when your light grows dim,
Trust when the shadows gather,
Trust and look up to Him.

Sometimes our faith gets turned on end when God seems to work against us, rather than for us. If in those difficult times we want to, as Apostle Paul wrote, “press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus,” we have to check out the the faith-coin’s other side. If you haven’t guessed that hidden message, read Anononymous’ poem again. That’s right; it’s trust!

You’ll find trust easy to grasp when your world is progressing swimmingly, but you may find it more illusive when you feel like you’re up to your eyeballs in piranha. So, what’s the key to flipping that faith-coin? The psalmist knew the secret:

It is good for me that I have been afflicted,
That I may learn Your statutes.
(Psalm 119:71)

Find your “statutes” in the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments. I’m not talking about the Ten Commandments and other laws found in the Torah, but the godly principles that apply to us as directly as they did to God’s people Israel. That verse from Psalm 119 spells out God’s purpose in allowing affliction in your life; if you have founded it on the Rock, affliction drives you to His Word for faith-building. If faith were a building, trust would be the roof that keeps you dry and safe in the worst storms. As long as I’m pushing metaphors to the limit, 1 Corinthians 3:9-15 gives you a Bill of Materials for your house.

Oh, you may think the pounding rain, the gale-force winds, the torrential flood, and the thunder and lightening will get to you, but as faith brings trust, trust brings, “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, (that) will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:7)

I Love My Verse of the Day from Bible Gateway

Granted, one Scripture verse isn’t much, but, at least for me, it often opens my creaking thought-door for some wide-ranging tangential ruminations. If you want to start getting it, find it under the Newsletters link on Bible Gateway.

Another daily blessing is Our Daily Bread, one of many devotionals available through Bible Gateway, and available under the same link. Sometimes it comes to my inbox with somewhat mundane spiritual thoughts and applications, but often it bowls me over with its relevance to my life.

Bible Gateway isn’t the most extensive site for Scripture study, but it offers a fantastic range of Bible translations and resources. If you haven’t used it, you really aught to check it out. You can’t have too much exposure to God’s Word.

Today’s Bible passage is Philippians 1:9-10 And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ. That’s my prayer for you, as I cover each piece I post on this blog with my prayer for anyone who happens upon it. May God bless you richly as you follow in Christ’s Way.

Retrospective Christianity

Who would think that I, as into tech-stuff as I am, would pitch hindsight for our walk of faith?

David McCasland, of Our Daily Bread, suggests that, “God’s guidance in the past gives courage for the future.” And he supported his thesis with Jeremiah 6:13-20, where the prophet decried his people’s greed and false dealing, religious flippancy and lack of shame. He could have been addressing many in today’s church (but not me, of course).

Lest God would be forced to punish and overthrow them:

16 Thus says the Lord:
“Stand by the roads, and look,
    and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
    and find rest for your souls.
But they said, ‘We will not walk in it.’

Does that mean we need to go back to the Mosaic Law and abide by all the statutes and ordinances? If you think so, you haven’t studied God’s New Covenant, delivered through Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection. Jesus’ blood freed us from the law’s tyranny so we could walk in newness of life—God’s divine life.

Does that mean we should walk in nostalgia, worshiping the “good old days?” Remember, longing for the past is the most curious sort of lust and idolatry, in that its hunger and thirst can never be quenched. Besides, it can make you unresponsive to today’s needs that God wants to address through you.

Living retrospectively means we learn from the past to prepare for today’s and tomorrow’s challenges. And we have so many ways of doing that: Of course, the Bible is where we start, as it tells us of God’s historical dealings with his people through his commands, and his responses to their depravity. Then we must learn from past saints, both those who lived by faith under the Old Covenant, and those who lived by faith in Christ (not only canonized saints, but all those sanctified by faith in Jesus), who devoted their lives to rightly dividing the Word of truth. And finally we must learn from the faithful saints of today, the elders who have proved their spiritual zeal for their Savior.

Living retrospectively also means we must learn from our own victories and defeats, with joy in the hope of the ultimate victory that Jesus won for us at such great cost.

If that means we have to look back with blinders, like a race horse that tends to get distracted and stumble, put on those spiritual blinders so you will neither long for past depravity, nor submit to condemnation for what is already under Jesus’ blood.

In your retrospection, never live for the past. Learn from it.

Pitfalls

On Monday, June second, Our Daily Bread presented, “The Careful Walk,” in which Dave Branon built on Ephesians 5:15 to show that we must be careful where we step in life.

For Christians, this material world is enemy territory, ruled by the prince of the power of the air. We should be among the most circumspect of people, for as long as we walk in these mortal bodies we’re the enemy’s target. One of his best strategies is to use his darkness (lies) to confuse us; as he is the father of lies, he’s so good at it that he blinds even the most careful of Christ-followers occasionally.

The best defense against darkness is a great flashlight with batteries that never wear out. God was good enough to provide us with both a lamp for our feet and a light for our path, all in one.

Today’s warfare threatens us with land mines, IEDs, snipers, and biological weapons, but the first century threat was arrows and swords. That’s why Apostle Paul told us to don God’s whole armor, that we might stand against the devil’s schemes.

So we see three essential aspects of survival in our enemy’s territory: Carefully assemble and put on the armor God has provided, walk circumspectly, and don’t forget to use God’s inexhaustible flashlight when your next step seems a bit shadowy. Or use it anyway, as natural light is often not as good as it seems. Climbing out of life’s pits can be really hard.

Of Shepherds and Sheep

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John 10:14-15 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

At the time of Jesus, Jewish shepherds kept their flocks in communal sheepfolds—normally stone-walled enclosures. These sheepfolds would house many flocks overnight. In the morning, the shepherd was allowed to enter the sheepfold. As he walked and called among the mixed flocks, only his own sheep would respond to him. Hearing and recognizing the shepherd’s voice, his sheep would follow him out of the sheepfold to the pasture. (Our Daily Bread)

This obviously speaks of the sheep’s response, developed by months or years of operant conditioning, as the shepherd consistently leads them to food and water when he calls them by name. It prompts them to run from thieves and predators because they are not that one shepherd the sheep trust. It functions the same way in the church; those who know Jesus, and through him the Father, will be far less likely to fall for false teachers, or the lies they propagate.

The old platitude, “to know him is to love him,” applies to Christians’ relationship with God. His Holy Spirit guides the process, beginning with conviction of our sin—it only takes one—and that “mustard seed” of faith that can grow to move our mountains of self-will toward his purposes. Knowing the Good Shepherd intimately, and enjoying his love and protection, is really a beautiful thing.