Rough Days

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Do you ever have days where you just feel beat down, overwhelmed with this sense of guilt or shame, kind of hollow inside, crushed by the continuous thoughts of “what if” and “if only,” like you don’t measure up to where you think you should be, plagued with this sense that you’ve gone too far, that you’re lost, that hope is but a fleeting fairy tale never to actually be found?

I’ve had these kind of rough days, and I might have some bad days again sometime in the future. What about today though? Are you having a rough day today, feeling anything at all like what I described above? I’d like to remind you of something that I have to constantly remind myself of: Get over yourself.

Your weakness shows your infinite need for Christ. Sometimes we seem to forget the whole gospel, and only listen to the part about how much we lack. The gospel doesn’t end at, “You are a worthless piece of garbage that can’t accomplish anything good on your own, you’re just a good for nothing sinner who can never escape your past, let alone outrun your present….” The gospel message doesn’t end there. It climaxes in the BLOOD SOAKED CROSS OF CHRIST, with Him crying out, “IT IS FINISHED!” And three days later Jesus raises from the dead to defeat death and conquer sin. (And it doesn’t even end there, it just gets better… because someday, everything sad will become untrue.)

Stop dwelling on how weak you are today and think about how great and powerful our God is, always! Your righteousness has nothing to do with your good deeds. Do you not realize that you cannot even rest in your own good deeds? No matter how numerous they may be, no matter how great a deed you have done might be, it will never measure up as any semblance of a righteous standing before a truly Holy God.

To be blunt, and not skirt around the issue, even our good deeds, our very best works, are but dirty rags, filthy garments, bloody cloth, and piles of crap in comparison to the righteousness of Christ that has been imparted to us (Isaiah 64:6; Romans 5:15; Philippians 3:8-9; Titus 3:3-7; among many verses that would substantiate this view). And while it was our sin that needed to be paid for through righteous, innocent blood in order for reconciliation to take place, it was actually the love and obedience of Christ that held Him to the cross. (Similar to there being two wills of God, or reasons that coexist, yet one supersedes another in importance.) We are all far worse than we’ve ever dared to imagine, yet in Christ, we are far more loved than we ever dreamed we could be.

Your righteousness was bought, it was purchased in blood, by Jesus Christ. He went to the cross and suffered the worst beating and loneliness any human has ever experienced all while knowing every stupid thing you would ever do, every bad thought you would ever have. And He did not do it in a begrudging manner, He did it in GLAD SUBMISSION!

The men that mocked God in the flesh to His very face, He created them. The men who spit upon Jesus, He designed their very saliva glands. The men who whipped Jesus and beat Him mercilessly, He gave them sight. The men casting lots over His clothes, Jesus foreknew and was sovereign over the outcome. The men who ripped the beard out of the face of Jesus, He kept their muscles operating. The men and women hurling insults at Christ as He carried the cross, He kept their lungs continually inflating with air. The men who nailed Jesus to the cross, He kept their hearts beating. The very men and women whom Jesus Christ spoke into being, the very people He created, were beating, mocking, and trying to shame Him… and He was sustaining their lives throughout every moment of it.

Do you struggle with believing that Jesus loves you. Not the idea that He loves everyone. But YOU. God loves YOU. Not you ten years from now after you’ve “cleaned yourself up” some, but you today, you right now. He does. Jesus loves you. How can we know this? Because Jesus despised the shame of the cross, and the mocking of His love. He went to the cross for the JOY set before Him in the ransoming of your soul, the fulfillment of your life.

Many of us still wrestle with this amazing truth in monumental ways; we’re still walking in doubt because we just doubt God’s affection for us. Do you know what that really is when we do this? It’s idolatry, because what you’re doing in essence, is looking at the bloody cross of Jesus Christ and going, “That’s just not enough. You’re going to have to show me something bigger than that to convince me You really love me, that You’re really for my joy.” Some of us are still wrestling with all of this because we doubt Christ’s affection for us despite the fact that He went to the cross and died for you. We lose sight of the fact that He went to the cross despite knowing you, despite knowing every single stupid thing you’ve ever done, every single dumb thing you have yet to do, as well as every single horrible thought you’ve ever had or have yet to think. He knew/knows you better than you even know yourself, yet He still went to the cross for the joy set before Him; of buying you back from enslavement to sin, with His own blood.

All the sin, weaknesses, and failures in the life of a believer have already been fully covered by the blood-soaked cross of the Lord Jesus Christ. God’s grace is exponentially and infinitely more powerful than any sin. So we can break the silence, stop drowning in shame and guilt, walk out into the light, and face the things that God is calling us to face.

We should look to the cross at least ten times for every time we begin to dwell on our own sin. Because God will never give you a task to complete without enabling you with the resources to accomplish it. He is the resource. His grace and love have already ransomed you. I’ve heard it said that sanctification is the process of further understanding and living in light of your already received salvation. We must depend on the Father’s love, the Son’s sacrifice, the Spirit’s help. We must always run back to and rest in the Gospel.

Some day, things that look like broken glass to us here, will make sense… as small parts of a beautiful stained glass picture of God’s redemptive work throughout history. So, for today, please, get over yourself. God loves you because of who He is! NOT because of who you are! You are loved.

In Christ there is forgiveness…

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The Gospel offends our pride, not our intellect.

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Many of us think that our intellects are offended by the Gospel of Jesus, but actually it is our pride that is offended. So many of us say we’ve rejected the old-fashioned, outdated, back-woods, ignorant, no longer needed, archaic gospel of Christ because of our education, our enlightenment, and that we’ve evolved out of our misguided, weak way of thinking, but Jesus would say you’re actually a prisoner of your own cultural and class-consciousness. Because you see, as privileged people, educated people, cultured people, we believe the lie that we’re self-made. We believe that we are where we are simply because we worked very hard and we have earned everything we have, but the poor and underprivileged know that doesn’t work that easily; the poor understand and know that it is by grace, they understand and know that we are not in complete control of our lives, they can better see all the different factors that put us in the place we are today, if we’re successful professionals, businessmen/women, artists, musicians, etc. (This is why the term “self-made millionaire” is so oxymoronic and silly.) So many of the factors that put us where we are today are not because of what we did, but because of what God gave and has allowed us by His grace.

When the successful person says they don’t need a savior, they just need an example, they don’t need what Christ did to break through any barriers between them and God, they can do it themselves, they can be good enough, and as long as they’re a good enough person according to their own standards they will feel good about themselves; what they’re really doing is creating their own religion in which they themselves are god. Jesus taught that many are blind to this because of their cultural and class-consciousness, because they don’t want to come to grips with true reality, they don’t want to lose that false sense of ownership, that illusion of control; they don’t want to believe we need intervention from any God if we desire to be saved from the brokenness of this world. Unfortunately we cannot medicate man to perfection again, nor can we legislate peace in our hearts. We can’t educate sin (or whatever word you want to use for things that you would deem not to be right and good) from our souls, it has been there from the start. The idea that we create our own standards of everything and there is absolutely no justice in any form of an afterlife is even less of an incentive and pretty much obliterates any motivation to live a better life; at least that would do so if you were to carry it through to the logical and rational implications contained in such a worldview.

Can anyone say they devised how their frame would be formed in the womb? If they’d be raised in a palace, or live out in the streets? Did anyone you know choose the place or the hour they were born? Think then, what can anyone truly claim? Not a thing, not even their name! So try to recall just one thing that is not a gift in this life? When we honestly give credit where credit is due, we see that everything’s grace after all. If there’s one thing we can know in this life: we are all beggars.

Some people claim the Christ-centered, grace saturated gospel is nothing more than a fictitious and free “Get out of Jail” card. Advocates of this conclusion usually claim Christianity does not hold people accountable for their actions; and many don’t believe in hell or the idea of hell. They criticize the silly saying “the devil made me do it” and in this they are right, because it is just that, silly and stupid. Paul goes so far as to say, “are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means!” or maybe better translated “Oh hell no! You’re damned if you do.”

Within the Christian worldveiw, sin is slavery. The Bible does not define sin as just breaking rules but also as “making something besides God our ultimate source of value and worth.” These good things, which become idols, enslave us mentally and spiritually and drive us relentlessly, even to hell if we let them. You are actually being religious, though you don’t seem to know it – you are seeking to find a kind of salvation through things that can end up controlling you in a destructive way. Slavery is the choice-worshiper’s horror. C. S. Lewis’ imagining of hell can be helpful in trying to understand it. In ‘The Great Divorce,’ Lewis describes a busload of people from hell who come to the outskirts of heaven. In the story, they are urged to leave behind the sins that have trapped them in hell. Lewis’ descriptions of people in hell are striking because they mirror the denial and self-delusion of substance abusers. When addicted to alcohol or an idol like success or money, we are miserable, but we blame others and pity ourselves; we do not take responsibility for our behavior or see the roots of our problem. Lewis writes:

“Hell… begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps even criticizing it… You can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood or even enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”

Many people today struggle with the idea of God punishing disobedient people. When sin is seen as slavery, and hell – in one sense – as the freely chosen, eternal slum of the universe, hell becomes much more comprehensible. Here is an example of this: First, sin separates us from the presence of God (Isaiah 59:2), which is the source of all joy (Psalm 16:11), love, wisdom, or good thing of any sort (James 1:17). Second, to understand hell we must understand sin as slavery. Romans 1:21-25 tells us that we were built to live for God supremely, but instead we live for love, work, achievement, or morality to give us meaning and worth. Thus every person, religious or not, is worshiping something (idols, pseudo-saviors) to get their worth. But these things enslave us with guilt (if we fail to attain them) or anger (if someone blocks them from us) or fear (if they are threatened) or exhaustion and drivenness (since we must have them). Guilt, anger, fear, and drivenness are like fire that destroys us. Sin is worshiping anything but Jesus – and the wages of sin is slavery and death… it’s hell.

Perhaps the greatest paradox of all is that the people on Lewis’ bus from hell are enslaved because they freely choose to be. They would rather have their freedom (as they define it) than salvation. Their tragic delusion is that if they glorified God, they would lose their human greatness (Genesis 3:4-5), but in reality their choice has ruined their human greatness. Hell is, as Lewis says, “the greatest monument to human freedom.”

Hell is no more exclusive than tolerance. Nothing is more characteristic of the contemporary mindset than the statement: “I think Christ is fine, but I also believe a devout Muslim or Buddhist or even a good atheist will certainly find God in the end.” A slightly different version is: “I don’t think God would send a person who lives a good life to hell just for holding the wrong belief.” This view is generally seen as inclusive.

The universal religion of humankind is: We develop a good record and give it to God, and then He owes us. The gospel is: God develops a good record and gives it to us, and then we owe Him (Romans 1:17). In short, to say a good person can find God is to say good behavior is the way to God. In essence this view says, “Good people can find God, but bad people cannot.” But what happens to us moral failures? We are excluded. You see, you can believe that people are saved by goodness or you can believe that people are saved by God’s grace, but you cannot believe both at once – and the approach that appears inclusive at first glance is really equally exclusive. The gospel says, “People who know they aren’t good can find God, and people who think they are good cannot.” Those who believe their moral efforts can help them reach God are excluded.

So both the gospel and the secularist’s approach are exclusive, but the gospel’s is the more inclusive exclusivity. It says joyfully, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you’ve done. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been at the gates of hell. You can be welcomed and embraced fully and instantly through Christ.”

Christianity’s view of hell is more personal than the alternative view. Fairly often these days, people say something along the lines of, “I have a personal relationship with a loving God and I’m very spiritual, but I don’t believe in Jesus Christ as the only answer or path at all.” One could ask them why and get a response along these lines, “Because God is too loving to pour out infinite suffering on anyone for sin.” But their answer raises another set of questions, namely: Did it cost God anything to love us and embrace us? Did He agonize or cry out for us? What else is lost if we lose Jesus’ nails, thorns, and the cross? Their answer is usually something like: “I don’t think any of that was necessary.”

How unsatisfying this is in the end. In an effort to make God more loving, we often make God less loving. His love, in this understanding, required no action. It was sentimentality, not love at all. The worship of a God (or something seen as ultimate) like this will always end up being impersonal, cognitive, and ethical. There will be no joyful self-abandonment, no humble boldness, no constant sense of wonder.

This more “sensitive” approach to the subject of hell is actually impersonal. It says, “It doesn’t matter if you believe in the person of Christ, as long as you follow His example and/or live a good life.” But to say that is to say the essence of religion is intellectual and ethical, not personal. To say that any good person can find God or whatever they see as ultimate is to create a religion without tears, without experience, without contact.

The gospel is not less than an understanding of biblical truths and principles, but it is infinitely more. The essence of salvation is knowing a Person (John 17:3). As with knowing any person, there is repenting and weeping and rejoicing and encountering. The gospel calls us to a wildly passionate, intimate love relationship with Jesus Christ, and it calls that “the core of true salvation.”

There is no love without wrath. What infuriates many people today is the wrath of God: “I can’t believe in a God who sends people to suffer eternally. What kind of a loving God is filled with wrath?” We must understand that a God without wrath is a God without love. Many people ask, “What kind of a loving God could be filled with wrath?” But any loving person is often filled with wrath. In the book “Hope Has Its Reasons,” Becky Pippert writes, “Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.”

Pippert then quotes E. H. Gifford, “Human love here offers a true analogy: the more a father loves his son, the more he hates in him the drunkard, the liar, the traitor.” She concludes: “If I, a flawed, narcissistic, sinful woman, can feel this much pain and anger over someone’s condition, how much more a morally perfect God who made them? God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but His settled opposition to the cancer of sin which is eating out the insides of the human race He loves with His whole being.” The Christian understanding of hell is that it is both the result of a human choice (as “the greatest monument to human freedom”) and of divine judgment. God must, and does, actively judge and reject those who have rejected Him. To ignore, mock, and belittle God and His existence only sadly and ironically results in hell and the further exclusion of knowing Him.

Growing up I always disliked the very idea of hell, but I had never thought about it as a measure of what God was willing to endure in order to love me until years later. The old cliché of “turn or burn” is stupid because heaven isn’t a place for those who are afraid of hell, but a place, a reality for those who love God. In the Gospel of John, in chapter 11, Jesus goes to Lazarus’ tomb and the text tells us that Jesus wept. Yet God is also extremely angry at evil. He is not just an angry God or a weeping, loving God – He’s both. He doesn’t only judge evil, but He also takes the hell and judgment Himself for us on the cross. Before I had always thought hell told me about how angry God was with us, but I didn’t know it also told us about how much He was willing to suffer and weep for us. I never knew how much hell told me about Jesus’ love. Indeed, it is only because of the doctrine of judgment and hell that Jesus’ proclamation of grace and love are so brilliant and astounding.

But then again, a naturalistic, relativistic humanist who believes we can only know what we can know empirically, would claim that nobody can truly know they are right, and therefore nobody can truly be wrong. Right? However, in saying that we all believe what we believe based on where we were born and what we were taught as children seems to be implying that we don’t really have freedom to believe in truth, but rather whatever the dice land on. (And by you saying that, your own statement and logic is then based merely on your own culture and is relative; and negates anything you say from being universal truth.) That it is not grace and human freedom intermingled, but rather impersonal fate that decides our lives. If it is arrogant for someone to claim to know something is true, how can it be humble to claim that they actually cannot know truth, but that rather truth is relative.

It is still a “power play” or “truth claim” to make the assertion that one cannot know truth, because you know this to be true how? What someone with this worldview seems to be saying is that Christianity belongs to a particular culture or maybe even to some cultures, but not to all. Dr. Lamin Sanneh, African scholar and professor at Yale, wrote a profound and important book called “Whose Religion is Christianity?: The Gospel Beyond the West.” In that book he addresses the question of what culture does Christianity really belong to. The answer is that no one culture, no single demographic really owns Christianity. He mentions the fact that Africa has gone from having about a 9% Christian population to 50% in the past 100 years, that Korea has gone from somewhere around 2% to about 50% in the past 100 years, and that Japan and China have also seen exponential growth in the Christian faith within the past 100 years. According to many scholarly sources the Christian faith is growing twice as fast as Islam or Buddhism, and it is not isolated to a particular continent, culture, age group, financial class, people group, or any single measurable demographic.

Dr. Sanneh says that he is very tired (and I share his feelings here) of people saying that Christians must not impose their culture on others or try to convert Africans because they are destroying their culture. (For one thing, this would assume that Christianity itself has a culture and that some actually assume it is a white, middle-class American culture… but that is to ignore or revise much of history. We forget Christianity is an “Eastern Religion” in that it began in the Middle East amongst Jews and Gentiles alike, and it has grown to include all nations and peoples as time continues to move forward.) Because in other words, they are saying Christianity belongs to them, or a certain type of person, but it doesn’t belongs to Africans. Dr. Sanneh replies, how dare you?! He explains how every culture has a baseline narrative. Paul talked about it in the cultures of his day in how the Jews wanted power and the Greeks wanted knowledge/wisdom. Every culture has a theme, every culture has certain things they are after.

Dr. Sanneh says that African culture understands that the world is filled with spiritual forces, and especially lots and lots of dark spiritual forces. So how are they going to address that? He writes that while the tribal religions believed in those spiritual forces, they had no true answer in how to overcome them. And then they looked at the modern secularism that was coming and they realized that modern secularism just laughed at their Africaness, because it said you can’t believe in miracles or spiritual forces, especially not demons; the secular worldview just laughed at and mocked their Africaness, it belittled them and their culture. Which is really what cultural totalitarianism looks like. He goes on to say that they then looked at Christianity, and Dr. Sanneh says this is what has been happening: that Christianity answered the great cultural challenge of their hearts. People sensed in their hearts that Jesus did not mock their respect for the sacred, and Christianity did not mock or belittle their clamor for an invincible savior; and so they beat their sacred drums for Him until the stars skipped and danced in the skies. And after the dance, the stars weren’t little anymore; because Christianity helped Africans become renewed Africans, not remade Europeans or westerners. There is a true cultural diversity among Christianity, for God does not want homogeneity, He wants us all to come to Him. And then the great grace He has given us, and to every single culture, the plot-line will only find its happy ending in Him.

We all need to realize and admit there are layers of emotion, motivation, and rationality that everyone has built on top of their first principles for their particular worldview. In one sense, this puts us all on a level playing field: there is no neutrality, as everyone has a worldview. In another sense, not all worldviews are created equal, and each one obviously has different consequences.

In his lecture “The Question of a Weltanschauung,” atheist Sigmund Freud described a worldview as:

“. . . an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.”

Whether we are aware of it or not, all of us have decided on a set of assumptions about the way the universe works that helps us rationalize our existence and explain the “fixed place” of everything. What you think about cultural topics like food, music, movies, politics, religion, art, etc. is inevitably related to your “overriding hypothesis” that you build your life upon. Socially, people with similar worldviews tend to be your friends and those competing worldviews tend to be your “enemies.” Philosophically, where you’ve landed on the answers to life’s greatest questions (meaning, purpose, evil, justice, etc.) guides your emotional and physical responses to everything.

At its core, the debate among philosophers about the nature of rationality, at least with regard to scientific knowledge, lies in the problem of justifying the term “uniformity.” For example, on what basis can we expect that gravity will act on a ball the same way in two similar places? Or at similar times? Believe it or not, this problem has caused extreme anxiety for many philosophers.

Additionally, serious problems arise in justifying objective reality (metaphysics – How can we know anything?), values (What is good science?), conceptual categories (Why can we define things as objects, rocks, galaxies, etc.?), and the reliability of the mind (epistemology – Why can we trust what we observe?). In fact, one of the biggest puzzles in the philosophy of science is justifying at least 93 finely tuned constants, or “brute givens,” that exist in the universe to hold things together and make everything work. Just reading Aristotle’s Metaphysics will have you questioning how fast “science” would have really progressed without philosophy aiding it along the way.

A rational worldview requires a basis to explain not only all of these philosophical conundrums, but also a basis to understand the scientific, personal, and cultural systems we build on top of them. At the end of the day, the root cause of irrationality is a faulty worldview. If your first principles cannot hold their ground, then you’ll never be restful. Your life will be built upon what Bertrand Russell calls “the firm foundation of unyielding despair.”

The first step toward getting out of this line of irrational thought is to understand that you need not be enslaved to define your own identity and nature of reality. There’s more to life than just you. We’re all used to being influenced by outside sources (family, friends, society, culture, books, movies, etc.), so why not carefully consider what those sources are as we establish our core principles? The second step is to find a worldview that meets all of the intellectual criteria described above. I’m convinced the only worldview that meets all of them is Jesus. He exists outside of nature to define reality, justify uniformity, give us values, and provide a foundation upon which to think reasonably about everything (although admittingly, many of us that call ourselves Christians still think with fallen minds).

Jesus allows us rest in a form of knowledge called revelation, which He has given us generally in nature and specifically in scripture:

“For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made.” – Romans 1:20

“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities – all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together.” – Colossians 1:15-17

“Let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the Founder and Perfecter of our faith, Who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.” – Hebrews 12:1–2

This is how we get out of irrationality. The worldview of faith is a gift that Jesus gives freely to anyone willing to receive it (1st Corinthians 2:12; Matthew 7:7). With our minds we understand that science is not the enemy of faith, rather it needs the Christian worldview and with our hearts we rejoice in the gracious rescue from just being accidental atoms beating air, carrying on and on, unwittingly as orphans of an unyielding despair.

Governments in the hands of the King of kings.

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We’re so flippant and arrogant as Americans. Right now we’re watching this really cool thing happen, we’re watching the whole world shift. We’re a generation that’s literally watching and tracking the socioeconomic epicenter of the world shift. For the last 100 years, the United States of America has been a bedrock, world policing, economic power. We were the show. And that’s shifting right now, isn’t it? Asia is a dominant power, India is a dominant power, the South is a power. You’ve got these other nations that are rivals.

And then you’ve got silly preachers on television going, “If we don’t repent, we’re going to be second stage…” It’s like, “Dummy, we’ve always been second stage.” God has been using nations for His plans and His purposes since the beginning of time itself (just read the book of Habakuk for instance). When Christ returns, do you think He is coming straight to Manhattan? Is Christ coming to Big Apple going, “I’m here, people of the United States! Worship Me, you peoples of the earth.” Is that how it’s going down, in New York City? The upper West Side? Or maybe it’s Los Angeles? Please…

The Bible will tell you that it’s going to shift. It’s got to shift. The gospel is not solely an American story. We are a people among peoples, and there will be one Shepherd, there will be one people. This is what you find yourself caught up in. I don’t know what you thought of the last election, but you shouldn’t panic. We’re so polarized in our culture where you have one group that’s celebrating… and then we have other places that are building bunkers and stockpiling weapons, crying about the sacred second amendment. It’s this really weird thing right now.

“The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; He turns it wherever He will.” – Proverbs 21:1

But according to the Scriptures, God places men in office. God’s not going, “Oh no! I’m going to need a huddle here. What are we going to do about the economy in the States. I mean, we all know I love them more than any other people group on earth. So what are we going to do about that? Did you know that some of them can only afford one television, and only 700 channels?! And what’s even worse, some people have to watch their TV live, when the show airs!!! We’re really going to have to do something about this! Holy Spirit, this is on You, what have You been doing?! You need to get down there.” You can giggle about this, but that’s exactly how we think. While the whole world burns we just keep watching television and buying trinkets…

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The King of Kings and the Kings of Earth

In the classic movie Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Jimmy Stewart plays the role of young, idealistic Jefferson Smith who is appointed to the U.S. Senate. When Senator Smith arrives in Washington, he dreamily boards a sightseeing bus headed for the capital city’s sites. At the Supreme Court Building, he looks up at the sacred words inscribed in marble: “Equal Justice.” Then in a moment intended to evoke a sense of majesty, he slowly ascends the stairs of the Lincoln Memorial to gaze upon the massive statue of this greatest of presidents. Alas, if only this world’s leaders were as majestic as their monuments! A few short scenes later, Senator Smith finds himself face down in the muck of D.C. corruption and power politics.

Since the history of the world, not one nation has been without corruption. Not one has lived up to the ideals inscribed on its monuments. And it’s on this landscape of fallen nations and futile kings that the story of Israel and its rulers is set.

Same as the Other Nations

As the period of the “judges” came to an end, God was Israel’s only king. But the people called for “a king to judge us the same as all the other nations have” (1st Samuel 8:5). At first, God gave them the kind of king they were looking for. King Saul was tall and handsome. But he was impetuous and foolish, jealous and paranoid. He even massacred an entire city – men, women, and children (1st Samuel 22:11-19). “Build your pretty monuments if you want,” God seemed to say, “but do you really want to put your hope here?”

But God did something unexpected. The people might have wanted a king for bad reasons, but God used for good what they meant for evil. God will rule His people through a human king, and He will make His glory known through such a king.

The message for Jefferson Smith and for us is this: You’re right to place all your hopes in a great Leader, to believe that His government will bring equal justice for all as well as life, liberty, and happiness. But you’re not going to find these in the governments or nations of this world. You’re going to find them in an unlikely place and in an unlikely Leader.

It’s true we should give thanks for just and godly leaders. At the same time, we must never forget that first and foremost, Christians are citizens of heaven. Praise God for leaders and nations that seek equal justice and life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But we must remember that ultimately these things will be found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. In their absolutely best moments, the governments of this world can only provide a shadow of what our Savior and King Jesus, will provide.

Work with a Loose Grip

So how does this truth affect our view of earthly leaders? First, we obey human governments, knowing that they have been instituted and authorized by King Jesus. They are His servant and agent (Luke 20:19-26; Romans 13:1-7). We should also pray for them. But we should never disobey Jesus, even if other authorities in this world call us to do so.

Second, we should never let our national identity and national values define us more than our Christian identity and Christian values. Our churches should not be gatherings of Americans; they should be gatherings of Christians who may or may not be American. What can you do to make internationals feel welcome?

Third, we should strive with whatever opportunities the Lord gives us in government: voting, policing, soldiering, adjudicating, and legislating to love Christ and to love our neighbors. Christians should work hard for peace, justice, prosperity, and the safety of our neighbors because we love them. And we should do this so that through our lives and fruit, our non-Christian neighbors get a more accurate picture of Christ and His rule. All of us have been given rule over something, even if it’s just a voting ballot, a team at work, or a homegroup. And we want to use whatever rule we have to produce good in the lives of others, just as Jesus does through His rule.

Finally, even as we work hard for good government, we do so with a loose grip, knowing that our true Savior and King is Jesus, not our favorite presidential or congressional candidate. Jesus is the hope of the nations.

Blog by: Jonathan Leeman, The Gospel Coalition Blog
(Second section is an excerpt from “The Gospel Project” for Adults Bible Study from LifeWay. — The first section was added by me.)

http://thegospelcoalition.org/mobile/article/tgc/the-king-of-kings-and-the-kings-of-earth

http://www.gospelproject.com

Covenant love.

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“He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord.” – Proverbs 18:22

A ring doesn’t mean anything if you can’t haul the weight… Love is a loyalty sworn, not a burning, not a feeling, or a moment. I didn’t just make a promise to Kat on our wedding day. I made a covenant with our God to love and serve Kathryn until one of us dies, regardless of my feelings or her actions. In this promise, this oath, this covenant, this marriage, I’m not going anywhere. I am privileged and blessed to never stop pursuing my wife until my lungs are completely void of air.

Understanding the wickedness and selfishness of my heart; understanding Biblically that marriage is for my sanctification, not simply for my sexual pleasure, not to have better financial stability, not to have somebody to help clean the house, not to have someone to bring me water and meds when I’m sick, not just to have someone to give me children and then help raise them… no, God has displayed His love for me in that He gave me a wife to grow me more into the fullness of Him. This involves the further death of me and my selfishness. God has given me a wife to show me the areas in my life where I am tremendously selfish, self-centered, and still desirous of my own petty way. And much to my frustration, but eventual joy, Kat helps me see more how stupid I am on a daily basis.

This is God’s grace displayed in my life. The image of marriage in the Scriptures is this image of God, Christ, His bride, the bride’s rebellion, Christ’s love, His pursuit, His grace… In this earthly marriage, God has said, “I love you so much, that I’m gonna show you what it’s like to actually pursue you. So have fun, you’re gonna need Me.”

My marriage to Kathryn is ultimately about the two of us acknowledging, understanding, growing in, displaying, and celebrating the love that Christ has displayed for His bride. In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus, he writes in chapter five about the truth that marriage is not ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment; rather marriage was created to be a human reflection of the ultimate love relationship with the Lord. It points to the true marriage that our souls need and the true family our hearts want.

For me personally, I never really even caught a good glimpse of the fuller meaning of this truth (of what it means for us, the church, being referred to as the bride of Christ) before mine and Kat’s wedding day. I mean, I had heard it taught on, read about it, thought about it, but the deep truth of Christ’s love for His bride had not yet really penetrated my heart or amazed my intellect. When those doors opened, and my bride, Kathryn, walked into the wedding chapel room looking beyond incredibly amazing, yeah, I’m not ashamed to admit it… I teared up as it all began to hit me.

We, the church, are not called Christ’s wife, but His bride… Think about that for a moment… The groom does not look upon his bride on their wedding day and think about her imperfections, but rather he is intensely focused on her precious qualities and beautiful attributes. On the wedding day, the groom is overwhelmed with a deep sense of gratitude, and devotion. Because this bride, standing adorned before her groom: she is his. He sees only her, and no one can deter his gaze. She alone catches his eye and she alone can hold his attention.

I will never forget how Kathryn looked that day, and how she was completely dressed up in splendor, having been presented to me as a beautiful, radiant, spotless bride. That is how Christ sees us, His chosen loved ones whom He died for, and He calls us His bride. His pursuit of us is fierce and unwavering, His affection for us is strong and deep, His love for us is abiding and unending. Our sincerest hope is that the Gospel is preached through our marriage, as God has chosen the story of our lives to be a shadow of His much greater narrative.

When I see and understand my marriage this way, and not as some kind of selfish contractual agreement with another person who exists only to serve me, make my life better, easier, and more enjoyable for myself, then it frees me up to not lay in bed at night and pout because I’m not getting what I want or not getting my way. Rather I better understand what is actually happening; I’m being sanctified, I’m being grown more into the fullness of Christ, that God is loving me in these circumstances (as difficult as they may be right now) in order that I may know Him and rely on His sufficient grace all the more. So I need to be more gracious, patient, humble, slow to anger, gentle, abounding in love and encouragement, and never stop pursuing my wife in Christ-like love.

Many people get from books, movies, television, etc. this idea that if you have married the right person (or if you’re just “with” the right person) you may expect to go on “being in love” forever, and it should come naturally and effortlessly. As a result, when they find they are not, they think this proves they have made a mistake, or the other person fooled them, and they are entitled to a change – not realizing that, when they have changed, the glamour of any new relationship will eventually go out of the new love just as it went out of the old one.

Because love and marriage are much more than the fleeting feelings of a new infatuation. Our wedding, our marriage, our family, our love, our lives are not meant to simply terminate on momentary happiness here in this lifetime on this earth, but to find and experience eternal joy as we celebrate our great God and King: Jesus. And when we arrive at eternity’s shore, where death is just a memory and tears are no more, we’ll enter in as the wedding bells ring, Christ’s bride will come together and we’ll sing, You’re beautiful!

Golden Monkeys in America

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“Those who pay regard to vain idols forsake their hope of steadfast love.” – Jonah 2:8

“Their land is filled with idols; they bow down to the work of their hands, to what their own fingers have made.” – Isaiah 2:8

“They are both stupid and foolish; the instruction of idols is but wood!” – Jeremiah 10:8

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in His holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before Him.” – Habakkuk 2:18-20

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Just like the cultures and religions that have created golden monkey idols or something else finite that they themselves made, and they put their trust in it, they worship it, they sing to it, chant to it, and have priests who give prophesy on behalf of it… We in our American culture are guilty for much of the same thing. We will create for ourselves an idol that we make, that we create, that we build, and in that we put our trust. If you think that is nonsense and there is no such silliness in our culture, let me point out some of the most popular. The number one by in large is the idol of self. We are uppermost in our own affections. Even if you’ll think about how some people choose a church or religion or group they devote their time and resources to, most of us choose a church, religion, club, group, society, etc. on what it can do for us.

And the reason why so many of us don’t belong to a community of faith, but rather go to or attend several, is because we feel like the church exists to meet our needs, not to be that community of faith that you belong to and give to as well as receive from. So for you, it becomes all about a particular preacher, how long their service is, what time their service is, a style of music, what programs they offer, how extensive is their child-care, etc.

Let us pause and think for a moment how this idol of self works itself out just where I live, here in the DFW area. In the DFW area, there are no mountains, there are no oceans, no great scenery in which to play in. (On a positive note, it makes us appreciate vacations anywhere so much more though.) So what we have done, since there’s not a lot of outdoor culture here, is we have taken physical beauty and we’ve made that a sport. So many of us have taken physical beauty and have said, “We’re going to be attractive and desirable.” So Dallas is a very, very pretty place in that aspect. We are all about external beauty. “I’m going to make myself look lovely. Because if I am better looking than others, if I am stronger than others, if I am more chiseled than others, then I validate myself above, and beyond others.”

Now idolatry is a funny animal because it rarely dwells in morally dark things. It almost always dwells in positive things that are made ultimate. Taking care of yourself is a good thing. Eating well is a good thing. The Bible would call both of those things wise. Even the apostle Paul said physical training is of some value. The Bible is going to talk about how we eat, what is smart, how to avoid eating in excess, and how not to eat for comfort. The Bible has a lot to say. The problem is not those things in and of themselves. The problem is when you take those things, make them ultimate, and they become the thing by which you identify yourself. “I am the strong, buff guy… I am the in shape, toned girl… I am the athletic beast person.” You begin to identify yourself by those things. You see it often and it works itself out a bit differently in males and females. What I’ve seen in males is this real desire to look this specific way and to be stronger than others. Now there is a great competition thing that can play into that that can push you into being all that you can be, but it’s this, “Just let me look good with my shirt off.” It’s almost purely physical, and it’s a primal, “Let me show that I’m the baddest guy on the planet” kind of thing. And it builds, it consumes, and their whole life is built around this external physical beauty.

In women, it plays itself out like that also, but what I haven’t seen among men as much as I’ve seen among women is this ferocious comparison that ends up causing a great deal of drama. Like I married a very beautiful woman. I have walked with my wife at the grocery store or mall, and seen other women checking out my wife. So part of me goes, “What’s wrong with me?” And then another part of it is I’m getting a glimpse of this dark side of the female soul where they’re going, “Do I look like that? Do I need to look like that? Should I look like that? I wish I looked like that…” Or even at times, there’s this horrific judgment that occurs where we’ll be out and about and see women dressed to the hilt in really tight things, and there’s this thing even among modest, kind-hearted women where they’re just like, “Can you believe how she’s dressed?” “Look at her, she must be such a floozy.” “Where is that girl’s mother?” “Hey, it’s the Real Housewives of such and such right there.” But really, what in the heck is happening there? How in the world can you judge soul and character by dress. Even if there is something broken in their soul that has them dressing in such a way that they want external attention? That should grieve our heart. It shouldn’t make you angry, or jealous, or have contempt. It should make you sad that they have not found value in who they are but rather in their ability to catch the eye of the opposite sex, and maybe make other women jealous. So you’ve got this external piece to our idolatry.

And then some of us just don’t have that going for us. That’s just not a temptation for us because it’s just not going to happen. So a lot of us go to the mind, and our mental strength. With linear information at our disposal, we just become smart and we pride ourselves on our brilliance. We don’t buy into anything at the surface level. We’re going to drill down. We’re going to know the truth. We’re going to know how things work. We’re not just buying into anything. And let me be clear about this, we should all be thinkers, we should be seekers, and want to get to the bottom of things. But there is a level of idolatry to that where you’re not going to believe anything that you can’t taste, touch, or see. Only what can be empirically known by the five senses, understood, and controlled by you will receive your time and attention. So then our mind becomes our idol.

And then you’ve got this whole third thing that is still about you, but it works itself out in every domain of your life where you want to throw out a certain vibe, you want to have this certain persona about you. So from the car you drive, to the clothes you wear, to where you live, all of that is carefully thought through and constructed to produce what you want people to see, despite the fact that you don’t even like most of those people. So really, your debt isn’t a money issue. It’s an image issue. Debt is not about money. It’s about image. You spend more than you have, to look a part that you want to look because you believe that, by looking that part, you somehow project to the world that you are worth something, that you are viable, that you are legitimate, that you have it going on and people should like you, and want to be around you. And that is idolatry. So the primary idol here in DFW is basically just “self.”

A secondary idol that we see all over the place is other people, other created beings, and it plays out primarily in two relationships. Relationship number one is a significant other. There is this idea built upon the philosophy of every Romantic Comedy, every sappy love song on the radio, that there is some mythical one out there who is going to complete you. Like if you just find this one right man, if you just find this one right woman, then all that has plagued you, all that has bothered you, all the loneliness that you have walked in, and all the rejection you have experienced will finally vanish. Just so you know… all of us married people make fun of you who buy into that silly lie. Because it’s simply not true. Seriously girls, no man will ever be able to do that for you. When you put that expectation on him, it is a smothering, exhausting expectation. He can’t do it. It doesn’t matter how romantic he is, it doesn’t matter how creative he is, and it doesn’t matter how careful and thoughtful he is, he cannot be that for you. He wasn’t meant to be that for you.

That “hole in your heart,” the book of Ecclesiastes says, that hole is eternal. Only what is eternal can fill the gap of eternity. Your man, as great as he is, isn’t eternal or infinite. He can’t fill that for you. He cannot complete you, Jerry MaGuire. When you have that expectation, when you place that expectation on him, your man will develop more and more hobbies to get out from under the weight of that expectation, because he can’t do it.

And for the guys, that thought of this beautiful, physically flawless being who is going to take care of every one of your physical and emotional needs, and make up for all hugs that your daddy didn’t give you, is going to lead to an unreal amount of conflict in your relationships. Please just stop and think about a couple things: You need to forgive your dad. He did the best he could with where he was, even if he was a schmuck. He did the same that you’re doing now if you’re a father now. And if you’re any better than your old man, then that’s the grace of God, not your awesomeness. And then, if you’re married, you need to learn to love your wife’s soul well beyond her body. She’s not your servant, she’s not your slave, she is not your sex toy and meal-maker. She’s not your, “Where’s my dinner, woman?” She’s not your work horse. She has a soul! So what happens for so many of us is a man comes into a marriage and says, “My woman is supposed to be all of this,” while a woman comes into the marriage and says, “My man is supposed to be all this,” … or singles go, “If I could just find this kind of woman/man,” and all our hope is wrapped up in these people who are going to fail us and let us down because they cannot possibly complete us or fulfill the deep longing in our hearts.

So then, when they do let us down, well it’s definitely not our fault. Of course it’s them! It’s not our expectations that are unreasonable. It’s their multitude of failures and personality flaws. Married people are acutely aware of their partner’s weakness vs. their own strengths. The husband can easily sit there and say, “She doesn’t do this, she doesn’t do that, and she doesn’t do this… but I do this, that, this, AND that…” It’s just strengths vs. weaknesses. You should always win that comparison. But this is what leads to the unraveling of so many different relationships. It’s an expectation that’s unrealistic. And all frustration is birthed out of unmet expectations. So maybe the bar needs to be lowered a little, or be a little more realistic. Maybe we need to find the fullness of life in Jesus Christ, and not in a broken human who is going to betray us, because that’s unfortunately going to happen.

Now, the other relationship we see this stuff playing out massively (and specifically the northern areas where I live here in the DFW area) are the relationships between parents and their children. So many of the parents around here need to accept the reality that their kid is not going to be a professional athlete. Their kid might be a beast at sports, and they may really be excellent. But still, statistically, their boy is more likely to be struck by lightning, while holding a winning lottery ticket, whilst being eaten by a shark than he is to become a stud pro athlete.

Don’t get me wrong, I love sports. I follow sports closely. I think sports are awesome, as long as they’re a game. It’s when it’s no longer a game, but you’re entire life that you’ve gone off the deep end. Do you know how we all know this? Because I used to play t-ball, little league, basketball, track, etc… And even now I can remember fellow five-years-old getting yelled at by their parents. It still happens today. Just go to the nearest ballpark and you can watch dads yell at their five-year olds, six-year-olds, seven-year-olds in t-ball. “What are you doing?! We practiced this! Get your head in the game!” Their kid is five, he just learned how to consistently not wet himself…

It sounds like a complete joke, but so many of these dads are dead serious. I mean they don’t do that with other games, do they? Like when their boy or girl is with their cousins playing freeze tag, they’re not running outside, freaking out, and screaming at them about how to tag properly. They’re not playing hide-and-go-seek upstairs with the parents shouting from downstairs, “Are you serious?! Focus! Hide like I taught you!!!” It’s just a game, guys. It doesn’t matter. But all of a sudden, now that it’s organized, some of us lose our minds. Some parents may have even been legit athletes back in the day, but we shouldn’t put that on our kids. Our children’s extracurricular activities should not govern our home. I mean, some parents spend more for their kid’s traveling select soccer team than my wife and my car are worth… combined. It is a foolish error for several reasons.

One, making your kids your god, turns them into little turds that you then release upon society to have to deal with. So then we’ve got coworkers and neighbors who are unbelievably obnoxious because their parents treated them like little gods. And then second, they’re going to leave the house someday. And as a parent, you should want them to move out someday. Shouldn’t you? I know parents with five, six, seven-years-old might find that harder to comprehend at the moment, but there is going to come a day as a parent where you love them with all the love you have in your heart, but they’re going to have to get out of your house. I don’t live with my parents anymore, that would be weird. (There are some exceptions to this, but it should definitely be a rare exception, not the rule.)

And then do you know what you’re left with as parents? Your spouse. So if the focal point of your existence is your children and then they’re gone, that puts you in this really weird spot with the spouse who you should have been doing life with this entire time. You’re like, “Man it’s so quiet around here now, who are you again?” Biblically a home is to revolve around a husband and wife under the banner of the gospel of Jesus Christ. What we should be imparting to our children is the wonders and glory of a Creator God who loves them, longs to save them, and rescues them from the fallen hurt of this world. And then let’s play some ball, let’s try to play ball well, let’s cheer them on, and let’s root for them, whether they really are excellent or horrible.

As parents, we should want our kids to not think that our affection for them is predicated upon their performance in a game. And don’t lie to yourself, you can have all the conversations you want with your kid about that isn’t what’s happening, but when you explode at their failures and beam at their successes in this arena, how in the world are they not supposed to believe that’s how they win your affection? If you even think that you can simply have a conversation with them, but continue to act that way towards them, I don’t think you have kids. Heck, I don’t even have kids, but just having grown up as a kid and helped serve in children’s ministry, I have observed that. I mean, do parents really think that their kids can’t read their bull? I could definitely pick up on where my parents or any adults said one thing and did another when I was growing up. I think we called it, “Does as I say, not as I do.”

So that’s the other place it plays out in relationships, with kids. Both make crummy, crummy gods. You make a crummy god, a spouse makes a crummy god, and your children make crummy gods. They don’t work as deity. None of them can hold that weight. Because there comes a time in all of our lives where we will desperately need divine intervention. Everyone eventually has that dark night of the soul. And if your god is you, your spouse, your children, your health, your wealth, or your vibe, you will be godless on a day when you need the divine. We need to press hard on a couple of things as we think about what idolatry really is. Idols are normally built around control and fear. So you have this fear, and you don’t want this fear to happen, so you begin to try to control scenarios that you believe will keep your fear from happening. And that’s how idols are built.

In fact, in the Old Testament, God will charge Israel with idolatry twice for signing treaties with Egypt and the Assyrians for their protection. They were afraid, so they made this deal with the neighboring country that if they got in trouble, this other army would bail them out, and God goes, “They have become your idol. You’re not trusting in Me for deliverance. You’re trusting in your own abilities and politics for your deliverance.” So what happens on the day of trouble is your control of things is revealed to be what it really is, an illusion. You simply don’t control what you think you can control. You don’t control your finances like you think you do. Anyone can go bankrupt. You don’t control your health like you think you do. Anyone can get cancer.

As always, there are things that we can do that are wise and smart, there are good and right ways we should steward our time, resources, and our bodies, but ultimately you can’t control it all. Now we can see even in our own U.S. history, it just takes the bottom to fall out if our economy for all of that money you have to become worthless. It just takes an instant. It just takes something that is not even directly related to us, not related to this country. There has been some uprising in the Middle East (there’s always some kind of turmoil going on there). How’s that gasoline bill going for you? Does it slam your wallet and remind you how little control you really have every time you go to the pump like it does for me?

We all work hard at protecting our children, but ultimately you can’t protect them from everything. We weren’t able to stop the recent tragedy in Connecticut. No matter how many guns laws are put in place, men with wicked intent will still find a way to carry out deplorable things. You do what you can, but you have to trust them with God. That’s all you’ve really got. If you do more than that, I think you will hard press them and they are likely to rebel. The other place I think you can see this fear and control thing happening in idolatry is with spouses. You just know they’re going to betray you, you know they’re going to do this certain thing, they’re going to let you down somehow eventually, and so to keep that from happening, you badger, you pester, you question, you dig, and you search where they’ve been. You see, all of that is fear. So instead you move to try to control and then unwittingly actually push your spouse away from you, and then there’s no trust, no grace, no intimacy, but you still have that false sense of control to keep you warm, right?

It’s an idol, and the Bible says there will come a day when you need the divine. And if you have an idol, it won’t be able to speak to you, it won’t be able to fix anything. Just look at the passages listed above, and if you’ll remember the text, God keeps saying, “You’ve made an idol that was speechless… You created an idol that was speechless… If it says anything, it says lies. You have created an idol that is speechless and helpless to heal, fix, mend, or correct anything.” And the last verse of the Habakkuk passage says, “God is in His holy temple; let the earth keep silent.” Habakkuk is not saying, “Don’t talk to God. Leave God alone. He is in His holy temple, so hush your mouth and don’t bother Him.” But rather he is saying, “Since the Creator God of all things is speaking, let us listen to Him, submit to Him and not walk in conjecture of what God must be like or what He would be like.”

So you hear people talk like that all the time. “Well I just don’t believe God would do that. I just don’t believe God works like that.” We, out of ignorance and idolatry, exclude some aspects of God’s character; we’re selfishly buying in on specific aspects, but want to forget any that may contradict what we want. “God is love, so He can’t have any wrath… God is gracious, so He can’t hold anybody accountable… God is merciful, so surely He won’t judge the nations or anyone for doing wrong…” Now, those are things people say all the time that are in stark opposition to God’s revealed character in the Scriptures. So more than anything, that verse in Habakkuk is saying that God is speaking, so maybe we should shut up for a minute and just listen to Him.

So God speaks to us, not like a silent idol. He speaks to us in His Son Jesus, He speaks to us through His Word in the Scriptures, He speaks to us through the Holy Spirit. What is He saying? He’s saying that you and I are broken from birth. Sin isn’t just an external action, it isn’t just a minor character defect. It’s a state of our heart that leads to those external actions. There are things that are sinful, but you do sinful things because you are sinful yourself. You aren’t a sinner because you sin, you sin because you’re a sinner. The problem isn’t just the action. The problem is you. There is nothing you and I can do to fix this issue. God is going to have to fix it for us. And He did, He is. He’s fixed it by sending Jesus, God in the flesh, to live a righteous life under the law, breaking no commands. He will then impute that righteousness to those who believe by faith. And on the cross of Jesus Christ, all the wrath meant for you and me in our rebellion will be absorbed by Christ so that we are, by the power of the Holy Spirit, set free to pursue God regardless of where we currently are.

So this is why we must constantly come back to this idea of moralistic deism, and expose it for the lie that it is. So many of us are like, “Let me clean up my life, and then God and I will be cool.” However, the realty is, you and God will never be cool because of your cleaning. You and God will only be okay because of Jesus Christ or you won’t be okay. Our hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. It’s also why none of us have anything to boast in. It’s also why there should be no swagger in you, in me, in anyone. There should be a lowliness, a humility, and a gentleness concerning all peoples. Why? Because you were shown mercy and grace. You didn’t earn it. You weren’t saved because you were awesome. Nobody is saved because they had some things that God needed for His kingdom. You were saved because He’s merciful. And that’s where we put our hope.

So how do you identify idols? Here are ten questions to ask yourself: What consumes most of your thoughts and feelings? What motivates the things that you do? What are you most afraid of? What brings the highest amount of frustration or anger into your life? What is one thing that can change your mood in a second? What would your friends say is your favorite topic of conversation? What are some things that you feel you can’t live without? What brings you solace? What do you yearn for? What is one thing that you wish God would do for you? If you begin to answer those questions, you’ll be able to find your idols. Because what you think about, what you yearn for, what you talk about, what you want God to do for you, what drives you, what makes you angry, what satisfies you, what sits on the other side of your “if only,” and what brings you comfort is what you worship.

Now you and I, everyone reading this has idols. Nobody is clean. The good news is that God knows and has made provision in Christ. So may we repent and trust in Him for that. Because again, our only hope is steadfastly rooted in Jesus Christ. God Himself is the gospel.

Finding Your Idols

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Idols are like sneaky little pests. They don’t always show up in the tangible form of a golden calf or monkey. They quietly tip toe past us, make a cozy diminutive residence in our brains, set up a small shop in a dark corner of our heart, and begin to grow and multiply. Most of the time we don’t even realize they are there because we’re completely unaware of their existence… or equally as destructive, we fail to notice them because we’ve fallen in love with the idol – it has become part of what drives us and makes us (momentarily) happy. Either way, we’re blind to our idols and need the intervening love and grace of another to help open our eyes to see the things warring for our affections to be over and above Christ.

Idols are not made from scratch. Idolatry involves the distortion of already present truth. The truth is changed into a lie. The lie depends upon the truth it is distorting for its power, just as the counterfeit depends upon the authentic for its value. Our idols of God contain truths within them, making them all the more seductive to us. To be sure, God is love. To reduce God to love, however, is to change the truth into a lie.

Below is a list of questions meant to help you as you strive for building a culture of transparency and establish the habit of asking deep heart level questions, applying the Gospel to your life, and seeking Christ in community.

Questions:

1. What do I worry about most?

2. What, if I failed or lost it, would cause me to feel that I did not even want to live?

3. What do I use to comfort myself when things go bad or get difficult?

4. What do I usually do to cope with disappointment or unmet expectations? What are my go to sources of release? What do I do to feel better?

5. What preoccupies me? What do I daydream about? What most easily comes to mind when thinking?

6. What makes me feel the most self-worth? Of what am I the proudest? For what do I want to be known?

7. What do I lead with in most conversations?

8. Early on in relationships, what do I want to make sure that people know about me?

9. What prayer, if unanswered, would make me seriously think about turning away from God?

10. What do I really want and expect out of life? What would really make me happy?

11. What is my hope for the future?

Grace-driven effort & Sanctification

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Every truly sane person can agree something has gone wrong with the world. The problem comes from within. It is the self-centeredness of the human heart. The Christian calls this problem sin. The Bible teaches that everyone is a sinner by nature. We are what is wrong with the world. In fact, these evils that come from the heart make us so unclean that Jesus tells His disciples:

“And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” – Mark 9:43-48 (ESV)

Sinful behavior (the reference to hand and foot) and sinful desires (the reference to the eye) are like a fire that has broken out in your living room. Let’s say a cushion on your couch has ignited. You cannot just sit there and say, “Well, the whole house isn’t burning – it’s just a cushion on the sofa. We’re all safe and sound.” If you don’t do something immediately and decisively about the cushion, the whole house will eventually become engulfed. Fire is never satisfied. It can’t be allowed to smolder; it can’t be confined to a corner. It will overtake you eventually. Sin is the same way: It never stays in its place. It always leads to separation from God, which results in intense suffering, first in this life and then in the next. The Bible calls that hell. That’s why Jesus uses the drastic image of amputation. There can be no compromise. We must do anything we can to avoid it: If our foot causes us to sin, we should cut it off. If it’s our eye, we should cut it out.

“People do not drift toward holiness. Apart from grace-driven effort, people do not gravitate toward godliness, genuine care for their neighbor through acts of kindness and generosity, prayer and obedience to Scripture, faith and delight in the Lord. We drift toward compromise and call it tolerance; we drift toward disobedience and call it freedom; we drift toward superstition and call it faith; we cherish the indiscipline of lost self-control and call it relaxation; we slouch toward prayerlessness and delude ourselves into thinking we have escaped legalism; we slide toward godlessness and convince ourselves we have been liberated.”

Grace-driven effort is violent. It is rage-filled and violent. And those are not the words that usually accompany Christianity. Now this isn’t violence towards another person; this is violence towards that residual sin inside of us. For those who have been made alive in Christ, our nature is a holy nature, and it hates the residual effects of sin. It wants it to die. It wants to put it to death. It’s not going to give it quarter, it’s not going to give it room, it doesn’t just want to starve and control it, it wants it dead. This is the one situation where the Christian can just channel a little Al Capone; because they want their sin DEAD, they want the motives of their sin DEAD, and they want every thing that leads to sin burned to the GROUND. Grace-driven effort wants to murder (which is this word in the Greek that means to murder) and put to death these things. It wants to murder sin in our heart and will be diligent to put said sin to death until it is dead. It is very serious about mortifying the flesh. It is very serious about putting to death wicked thoughts and wicked ambitions, both seen and unseen. And for the bulk of you, most of what you will wrestle with will be unseen. Most people won’t see it.

What I have found is that the legalist more often than not doesn’t necessarily want to put their sin to death; they just want to control it. They want to train it. They don’t necessarily want it to die. Here is how it shows back up. Because you don’t want to murder it and because you want it to be your pet, when you get tired and frustrated and angry or when you feel entitled and somebody isn’t giving you what you think you are owed, you run to that sin for comfort rather than to the God of the universe for comfort. This is why so many of get stuck in this cycle of sin where you do really well for a season and then you fall back into it. It’s because you haven’t tried to kill it and put it to death. You have simply tried to train it.

So here’s what happens. It’s almost like when the trained animals turn on their trainers in an episode of “When Animals Attack.” We have a little pet sin, and we think we’ve got it controlled. Then it turns on us and destroys us and we are thinking, “This is crazy. Where did this come from? How did this happen?” Well you gave quarter to something that you can’t really control in the end. And for all the bravado, “I’ve taught him to sit. I’ve taught him to roll over. I’ve taught him to beg. I’ve taught him to shake. I’ve taught him to speak.” For all the “I’ve controlled him,” it only takes the right circumstance or the right setting for him to turn and do what he was created to do, which is deceive you and destroy you and kill you and lie to you. You buy in, and you’re right back to square one. So grace-driven effort is violent, because it understands that the lion is out to destroy. The lion is seeking someone to devour. The man of the house understands that if he is devoured, there are other people that are wounded by him being devoured. There is collateral damage to his failure as a man. So he puts the lion down. He doesn’t just starve him; he starves him to death. He doesn’t strike him once; he strikes him and strikes him and strikes him and will not quit hitting until he’s dead. He doesn’t just assume he is dead, he then rips out the heart and cuts off the head. Next he piles on the wood and gasoline, and he burns what is left until nothing remains. He fiercely and mercilessly destroys the lion until there is literally nothing left to kill. This is how we are to address the sin in our lives.

Because again, grace-driven effort is violent. I think some of the reasons that a lot of us have been stuck in frustration for a long time is that we are simply not violent enough towards our sin. We have somehow said that these sins are respectable sins or they will fade away in time. You have said, “These things I can deal with.” But you forget that out of the same heart that would harbor anger, malice, and slander comes murder, wickedness, lust, and deceit. An idolatrous heart leads to idolatrous actions. It explodes like a volcano that’s dormant if you’re not careful.

The Gospel needs to be the foundation for everything we know and believe; one major reason for this, is that the gospel creates a holy people. Because, as we know, people don’t just stumble into godliness; they don’t spontaneously wake up one day knowing Jesus deeply and pursuing the conformity that Jesus commands and the Spirit empowers. However, we should be very weary of giving people checklists and must refuse to lay a weight on people that Jesus didn’t. Paul uses great phrases to describe our growth into holiness and reflecting the Glory of God and His reign and rule over our lives. Paul talks about “training ourselves in righteousness” (1st Timothy 4:7), “laboring in prayer,” “running to win,” “counting it all a loss” (Philippians 3), and “beating his body” (1st Corinthians 9:26-27). This language doesn’t paint the picture of sitting on the couch and “falling” into godliness.

“… heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell – it’s a place for those who love God…”

One of the biggest problems with most of those who claim to know and love God, and want to see sin lose its power in their lives and walk in greater intimacy with Christ is that they are exhausted and have been trying to mortify sin by promises and threats rather than through the weapons grace provides. By “promises” I mean they believe that they will have life to the “full” and get a great house in heaven if they behave in this manner or that manner. In the DFW area, this plays itself out with church attendance and comparing ourselves to others. If I go to church frequently and am better than I was a couple years ago or if I’m better than other people who attend my church then I must be good. We love to compare our strengths to others’ weaknesses and grow confident in our goodness. By “threats” I mean that many of us try to behave and modify our behavior because we fear hell and God’s wrath, not because we love Christ and desire more of Him. We try to modify our behavior so we can earn our way out of hell. The problem with this is that heaven isn’t a place for those who fear hell – it’s a place for those who love God.

Another very popular sport in the Bible belt is fighting residual sin with our own vows and resolution – these become our defense. In the end, you are simply pitting sin against sin and in that scenario you lose. We fight sin and grow in godliness by using the weapons grace provides. There are at least three:

Weapons of Grace:

1. The Word of God

“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.” – 2nd Timothy 3:16-17

The Holy Spirit illumines the Scriptures as the storehouse of weaponry in the battle against sin and for godliness; all that we need to stand and fight are found with in its pages. The reason I think so many people stumble about when it comes to residual sin and maturing in Christ is they have no idea what the Scriptures say when it comes to those subjects. The Scriptures are where we find and are trained to do battle in such a way that victory is found.

2. The Blood of Christ

“But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” – Ephesians 2:13

One of the reasons Paul constantly preaches the gospel to people who already know and believe it is the human tendency to run back to the law instead of trusting in the blood of Christ to cleanse them from all unrighteousness. You see this especially in Galatians 2:20-3:5. When we stumble and fall we run to God not from Him. This is made possible by having God’s wrath removed from us and absorbed by Christ and Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. A mark of Christian maturity and genuine Gospel understanding is not running away from God to clean yourself up and then come back but a broken and contrite spirit that runs to Him asking Him for forgiveness and strength.

3. The Promises of the Covenant

“Therefore He is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.” – Hebrews 9:15

If the 10 Commandments were a quiz or test I easily fail. I’ve been guilty of every one of them. One of the reasons the law was given was to be a diagnostic tool to show me I can’t be perfect, that I’m going to fall short, and that I am in desperate need of a Savior (Romans 1-7). When we stumble and fall the Spirit reminds us of the Scriptures that promise that there has been a death for those failures and that there is a new covenant resting on Christ now and not on my ability to obey the law. This allows me to pursue Christ without fear and by “beholding His glory I am transformed.”

[This blog consists of reflections and content that has been adapted from material and sermons by pastors Tim Keller of Redeemer Presbyterian, and Matt Chandler of The Village Church.]

Related articles:

“Gospel-driven Sanctification” by Justin Holcomb

“Gospel-driven Sanctification” by Jerry Bridges

“Real Hope for Real Change” by Matt Moore

Related Video Discussions:

“John Piper and Tim Keller Wrestle with Sanctification: Part 1” by: Desiring God ministries

“John Piper and Tim Keller Wrestle with Sanctification: Part 2” by: Desiring God ministries