Viewing entries in
Worship

Self-Worth, Identity and Awe

In an article over at the Desiring God blog, Jen Wilkin, gives an incredibly helpful reminder when it comes to self-reflection and what we spend our time looking at. It's directed towards women but applicable for us all. Here are a couple of excerpts: 

Research shows that when humans experience awe — wonderment at redwoods or rainbows, Rembrandt or Rachmaninoff — we become less individualistic, less self-focused, less materialistic, more connected to those around us. In marveling at something greater than ourselves, we become more able to reach out to others. 

At first, this seems counterintuitive, but on closer examination, it begins to sound a lot like the greatest commandments: Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength (marvel at Someone greater than yourself), and love your neighbor (reach out to others). 

Awe helps us worry less about self-worth by turning our eyes first toward God, then toward others. It also helps establish our self-worth in the best possible way: we understand both our insignificance within creation and our significance to our Creator. But just like a child on an iPad at the foot of an 800-year-old redwood, we can miss majesty when it is right in front of us.

Later she writes: 

Awe yields self-forgetfulness. When we emphasize self-awareness to the omission of self-forgetfulness, we have missed the mark. You can tell me that I am a royal daughter of the King. You can assure me that I am God’s poem or his masterpiece. You can tell me that I stir the heart of God, that I am sung over and delighted in, that I am beautiful in his eyes, that I am set apart for a sacred purpose. You can tell me these things, and you should. But I beg you: Don’t tell me who I am until you have caused me to gaze in awe at “I Am.” Though all of these statements are precious truths, their preciousness cannot be properly perceived until framed in the brilliance of his utter holiness. There can be no true self-awareness apart from right, reverent awe of God.

Read the rest here.

Eating as Worship

Becky Wilson, over at For the Church, encourages us to see our enjoyment of God's good gifts in the form of food as a kind of worship. In reading it I was reminded of 1 Timothy 6:17c, where Paul writes that God "richly provides us with everything to enjoy." 

My favorite definition of savor is "to give oneself to the enjoyment of." I love that. A lot.

But are we really supposed to do that? Give ourselves to the enjoyment of food? Well... I think yes, but before you get mad and label me a glutton or hedonist, let me explain. By no means am I suggesting that we are to worship the food itself, nor to over-indulge in food or obsess about it. The food itself deserves none of those forms or levels of attention.

But now let's consider the Creator of food. Why do you suppose He gave us such a gorgeously diverse menu to choose from when we feed ourselves? Couldn't He have fed us simple manna every day? Or maybe even more boring, couldn't He have designed our bodies to be fueled by simply swallowing a super-mega vitamin daily? I'll answer that. Yep. He most definitely could have. He's God. He can do whatever He wants. Which means...

He must have wanted us to have a delightful sensory adventure every time we eat. Why else would He create so many colors and textures and smells and flavors? Consider the boundless variety of sensory experiences available to us through food. The colors we see, the aromas we smell, the textures we feel, the sizzles we hear, and OH the flavors we taste!

Why would He do that? I think there are many reasons we could talk about which would all be true, but for the sake of this brief discussion, let's focus on this-- He loves His children. (That's us.) He delights in our enjoyment of His gifts to us. Any and all of His gifts, including food.

So, can we worship (offer adoring reverence or regard to) God when we bite into a perfectly ripe, lusciously fragrant, sweet and juicy strawberry, remembering who created it for our enjoyment? Or when we smell and taste that first sip of coffee in the morning? What about when we hear bacon sizzling in a pan on that rare Saturday morning we have nothing on our calendar? Yes, I think we can. But more than that, I think we should

But Do You Adore Him?

Jared Wilson with a question worth reflecting on: 

We are typically very quick to note when someone is not showing love for their neighbor. But what about love for Jesus? Should it settle implicitly? Is love for Christ something that is sufficient when latent?

What I notice a lot every day in the Christian spheres of social media is just how incredibly adept we evangelicals are at doctrinal criticism, cultural rebuke, theological analysis, biblical exegesis, contending for the faith in apologetic and ethical debates, pithy spiritual bon mots, religious advice, and of course the quoting of Christian leaders present and past, but what seems less prevalent is adoration of Jesus.

When we see a Bible verse, we run its meaning through our mind and can expound on it with intelligence, but when we see Christ before us, do we stagger at his beauty and exult in it with awe? Do we adore Jesus?

When we see a lost person acting a fool in the news, our righteous indignation runs right through our fingertips to our keyboards, but when we see Christ before us, does our righteousness crumble and run right to his feet in a posture of supplication? Do we adore Jesus?

When we see one of our Christian heroes saying something smart or funny or challenging, we send them a virtual high-five and echo the proclamation in shouts of appreciation, but when we see Christ before us, do we lift him high in our hearts and herald his glory with shouts of acclamation? Do we adore Jesus?

Christ is the apex of all that is precious, the center of all that is glorious and delightful. He is the very point of existence. He is the Son of the living God, the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last who was and is and is to come. “O come let us adore him!”, not scrutinize, utilize, or analyze him.

Read the whole article here.

Looking to Christ

A great reminder from Matt Papa of what we're doing on Sunday mornings:

The reason it feels like just another Sunday morning is because the stakes aren’t high enough.

It wasn’t just another day for the people of Israel in Numbers 21. Imagine: You’re there in the desert and the serpents appear. Three of your family members are bitten immediately. One comes slithering up and bites you on the shin. People are screaming. Fainting. Dying.

Hours pass. Suddenly you see in the distance a mob is forming. Around a pole. “I hear if you look at it you won’t die!”, one girl says to you with a measure of hope. Curious, consumed, determined, desperate — you jog, you run, you join the crowd, you stop, and . . .

. . . you check your iPhone.

No. You don’t do that. You fight through the crowds and you stare a hole through that bronze serpent. And time stands still as you feel with every passing second the healing flow through your veins as you had felt the poison flow before.

Poison in veins. Bronze serpent raised.

Do you imagine anyone was bored that day?

Whose Righteousness?

Most of us reading this won’t have snakes in our churches, but we will have been bitten by the curse this week.

But do we really get it?

Our creed says Jesus is our Savior, but oftentimes our worship says we’re okay.

We aren’t gazing. We aren’t on our knees.

Can you imagine the way those people in Numbers 21 looked toward that pole? It wasn’t a quick glance. They were transfixed. Studying with seriousness this peculiar, exalted cure. Were they concerned with what other people were wearing? With the style in which Moses held the pole?

No.

This is worship — the serious study and celebration of God’s peculiar, exalted cure, the bloody, battered, Savior on the pole. When our worship has grown cold it doesn’t mean we need to change the music up, or that we need new styles — it means we are standing in our own righteousness.

Why So Urgent?

Wait, shouldn’t we balance this “life and death” talk about worship with an understanding of our security in Christ? Shouldn’t there be a more relaxed, peaceful way to think about it since we are forever held in the loving embrace of God?

Two responses.

One:

To be a Christian doesn’t mean that at a certain point in life we throw all our hope on Jesus, and then later we go about our business. It means we become more broken, more desperate. Faith becomes — “looking” becomes — more intense.

This is how you know a man is advancing in holiness. While his sins in reality may be becoming fewer and fewer, to him they are appearing greater and greater. Why?

The more you approach the Light, the more you reproach the dirt.

Which leads to the second response:

Yes, we are safely held in the arms of God. And this doesn’t make our worship less intense, but more. Think: Who is in his loving embrace? We are. The people bitten. The wretches like us.

When we know simultaneously that we are worthy of condemnation but eternally embraced in his love, that is when worship explodes from our hearts.

And therefore, the call of the worship leader is not “stand and sing” — it is “look and live!”

All of us have been bitten by sin. All of us hear the hissing, hypnotizing allure of idolatry and pleasure.

There is one hope. Lift your eyes.

From one who bears the fang-shaped scar, I urge you this weekend to attend corporate worship not merely to sing or merely to listen, but to look — to gaze.

Look and live.

 

One Missing Ingredient

Paul Tripp with a great reminder about something all too easy to neglect.

If you had to write a short description of Christianity, what would you write? If you had one sentence to capture the essence of your belief, how would you phrase it? I’ll give you 5 common answers:

  1. Christianity is having your sins forgiven and going to Heaven
  2. Christianity is a commitment to ministry within the body of Christ
  3. Christianity is a commitment to evangelism and service
  4. Christianity is theology that provides answers for major life questions
  5. Christianity is a moral code for daily living

None of these answers are wrong. Christianity is absolutely about justification and eternity; Christianity most definitely includes ministry and evangelism; Christian theology provides a framework to interpret life; and Christianity does lay out a moral code for daily living.

However, at its essential core, Christianity is not about activity, theology, or evangelism. All of those things are good and meaningful parts of Christianity, but they miss one key ingredient.

Read the rest here.

The Bigger Question

Challenging words here from Jared Wilson:

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. – 1 Corinthians 13:1

We are typically very quick to note when someone is not showing love for their neighbor. But what about love for Jesus? Should it settle implicitly? Is love for Christ something that is sufficient when latent?

What I notice a lot every day in the Christian spheres of social media is just how incredibly adept we evangelicals are at doctrinal criticism, cultural rebuke, theological analysis, biblical exegesis, contending for the faith in apologetic and ethical debates, pithy spiritual bon mots, religious advice, and of course the quoting of Christian leaders present and past, but what seems less prevalent is adoration of Jesus.

When we see a Bible verse, we run its meaning through our mind and can expound on it with intelligence, but when we see Christ before us, do we stagger at his beauty and exult in it with awe? Do we adore Jesus?

When we see a lost person acting a fool in the news, our righteous indignation runs right through our fingertips to our keyboards, but when we see Christ before us, does our righteousness crumble and run right to his feet in a posture of supplication? Do we adore Jesus?

...read the rest here.

Robbery and Perversion

A helpful article exposing what is behind our idolatry.

As Americans we do not have a good understanding of idolatry. We name shows American Idol. We speak in glowing, unabashed terms of someone being our idol (this is intended to be complimentary).  Judging from the usage it is seen to be positive and glamourous to be an idol. This is a master work by Satan to redefine and empty a term of its biblical moorings.

I’m afraid it is not much better when it comes to the church. Many Christians do not have a working theology of idolatry. We tend to think of idolatry as a carved figurine of wood or porcelain; something we bow down before, light incense to, or regard with some various forms of mystical power. This may be something that was done in ancient history or if done today it is in places like India or a remote tribal area.

The Bible does not present idolatry as something that is specific to a historical period or even a particular group of people. Instead, the biblical perception of idolatry is that it is characteristic of all people of all times after man’s first sin in the Garden of Eden.

There are warnings against idolatry throughout the New Testament.

  • (Ephesians 5:5) For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
  • (Revelation 21:8) But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.

Another loud and somewhat ominous statement is found in the Apostle John’s first epistle. The last words he wrote in that letter are simply: Little children, keep yourself from idols. (1 Jn. 5.21)

The fact that the Bible talks so forcefully about idolatry and that most people (whether inside or outside of the church) don’t have a firm understanding of it, reminds us that we need to seriously consider and understand the concept.

When we think of idolatry we need to think in terms of robbery and perversion.

  • It is robbery because in idolatry we take what is due to God and give it to someone or something else.
  • It is perversion because in idolatry instead of giving our devotion to God we give it to created things.

This is plainly seen in Romans 1.18ff when the Apostle speaks of our sinful acts as “exchanging”. In idolatry we exchange the glory of God for the glory of created things (Rom. 1.23) and we exchange the truth of God for a lie (Rom. 1.25). We steal from God (robbery) and we pervert the affections that God has given us by expending them on (worshiping) created things rather than the Creator.

Therefore…Idolatry is: honoring or worship a created thing at the expense of God, the Creator.

So often this elevation to worship of created things is not even the “bad things” per se but the good things that we shamefully elevate to the place of God. As someone has said, “We make good things ultimate things.” This is idolatry.

Therefore…Idolatry is: fear, love, serve no other gods before God:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:2-3 ESV)

Tim Keller reminds us that idolatry is:

  • Anything more important to you than God.
  • Anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God.
  • Anything you seek to give you what only God can give you.

Therefore…Idolatry is: anything that sits in God’s chair; specifically anything that you value, serve and build your life upon that is not God.

Therefore…Idolatry is: honoring or worship a created thing at the expense of God, the Creator.

Idolatry then is, biblically speaking, robbery & perversion. It is only through trusting and treasuring Christ, the one who was obedient for us, even to death, that we might live as worshipers of the One True God.

(HT: Ordinary Pastor)

Does Your Work Feel Monotonous?

A great post on how to work with joy when what you're doing feels monotonous.

I love creative work, and in my world that translates into strategic planning, designing products, and kickstarting new and exciting initiatives. I find work energizing and intellectually stimulating.

The monotonous work … not so much.

Unfortunately for me, not all the work I do daily is creative. In fact most of our work is of the repetitive and monotonous type — interspersed with occasional opportunities for creativity. This is true of much of our work that must get done every day, both in the office and at home.

Glorifying God in the Repetitious

The chores around the house get done only to become undone in a matter of days. And shoveling snow and mowing the lawn could be fun, if you didn’t have to do it all over again — and again and again and again. Laundry, cleaning, dishes — it all has a certain repetitive feel to the labor.

And it’s not any easier in the corporate world. Writing status reports, attending meetings, organizing filing systems — so much of our office work is just as monotonous. And here’s the challenge we face: How do we approach the monotony of our working lives with a view that is glorifying to God and satisfying to our souls?

Somehow it seems easier to view our work as reflecting God’s glory as Creator in our creativity. Creativity is a reflection of our Creator. But how do we glorify God when engaged in the repetitive work that seems to be completely devoid of creativity? How do we glorify God when we’re cleaning out our email inbox or filing paperwork?

The world offers us little help here. The kinds of work that are repetitive and monotonous are not well-regarded in the culture around us. Rewards abound for the “creative class” but not for the “repetitious class.” But this discontinuity does not reflect the priorities of God.

“Do It Again!”

I recently came upon G. K. Chesterton’s words in John Piper’s book When I Don't Desire God: How to Fight for Joy. It offers a hint on a different way of thinking about the monotony we face in our daily work.

[Children] always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that he has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.

Pause and consider what this says about God’s high view of repetition. He glories in the monotonous repetition of the universe we live in. The sun rises in the same direction every day, and every time it does, God rejoices. And the sun will continue rising repetitively, every day, as a reflection of God's faithful rulership until the day he says, “Stop!”

The moon and stars travel in an orbit settled by the repetitive rhythm of God’s choosing. And he delights in the repetition. This is in no small part what Psalm 19:1–2 says:

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

God is strong enough to exult in monotony.

From the Heavens to Our Inbox

Day after day after day the heavens testify of God's creative power, his faithfulness and his wisdom. Yet, most of us are blind to the daily testimony. Perhaps Chesterton is right, our inability to see God in our daily monotony has less to do with the nature of the tasks and more to do with the effects of sin on our childlike joy.

But what does this have to do with our daily work?

We desperately need new eyes and hearts for the monotonous aspects of our daily work. We need new eyes to see our work in light of God’s mandate to Adam and Eve to “fill the earth and subdue it” (Genesis 1:28). Martin Luther had eyes to see this. He wrote, “when a maid milks the cows (repetitive monotony) or a hired man hoes the field (repetitive monotony) — provided that they are believers, namely, that they conclude that this kind of life is pleasing to God and was instituted by God — they serve God.”

This carries over into the office.

We are called to shape the world we live in, to bring order to it. And in the modern world this may take the look and feel of organizing paperwork, filing reports, and cleaning our desks. When we carry out these monotonous tasks with joy, we exercise order in a world rendered disorderly by sin, and we reflect the faithfulness of our Father. We are God’s agents in tending this world that we live in.

Grace for the Boredom

We must trust God for the joy and strength required to do this work well. Some jobs are simply boring, and as a result they are hard jobs to face every day. And so we need strength — I would argue we need more strength for the monotonous tasks than for the creative work.

But here’s the good news — “the joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). God can and will give us joy and strength for the work he’s called us to do. Even the non-creative stuff.

 

(HT: Desiring God)

Beware of Distractions

A good reminder here as we seek to avoid distractions during this season-

There is a great danger this Christmas season of missing the point. And I’m not referring simply to idolatrous consumption and materialism. I’m talking about Christmas religiosity. It is very easy around this time to set up our Nativity scenes, host our Christmas pageants and cantatas, read the Christmas story with our families, attend church every time the door is open, and insist to ourselves and others that Jesus is the reason for the season, and yet not see Jesus. With the eyes of our heart, I mean.

I suppose there is something about indulging in the religious Christmas routine that lulls us into thinking we are dwelling in Christ when we are really just set to seasonal autopilot, going through the festive and sentimental motions. Meanwhile the real person Jesus the Christ goes neglected in favor of his plastic, paper, and video representations. Don’t get distracted from Jesus by “Jesus.” This year, plead with the Spirit to interrupt your nice Christmas with the power of Jesus’ gospel.

(HT: Jared Wilson)

Food vs. God

Some helpful thoughts here on how we tend to look to food instead of God.

Before the fall, food was the way we expressed our obedience and trust in God. We obeyed God by eating from any tree except the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

At the fall, food was the way we expressed our disobedience and mistrust of God. It was an attempt to live life without God (expressed through taking forbidden food). We are embodied persons, and so sin affects our bodies. No sooner did Adam and Eve rebel against God than they felt ashamed of their bodies. Sin distorts all of our relationships, including our relationships with food. Here are four ways:

1. We use food for control instead of looking to God’s greatness

My Mexican friend Alejandro is horrified at the way Americans eat food on the move. We’re so busy trying to be in control that many of us treat food as fuel. As a result we strip food of its identity as a gift, its “gift-ness.” It becomes mere utility. We disregard its rich variety and amazing tastes. Denying that food is a gift allows us commune, and express gratitude is written out of our schedules so we can get on with achieving our own goals. We’re too busy proving ourselves or managing our lives without God to stop and express our dependence.

Food is meant to express our dependence on God, but we use food to express our independence from God. For my anorexic friend, food became a way of exercising control. In a scary world full of many things she couldn’t control, she could at least control what went in her mouth. But, as she herself put it, this practice quickly escalated and became out of control. Anorexia is for some a way to exercise self-sovereignty instead of trusting the sovereignty of God.

2. We use food for image instead of looking to God’s glory

Food became a means of salvation and deification now, just as it was in the garden of Eden. Satan tells Eve that she and Adam will become like God if they eat the forbidden fruit. Our concern for self-image is an attempt to be godlike. We want to be worshiped. We are concerned with our glory instead of living for God’s glory. We are controlled by the opinion of others instead of recognizing God as the glorious one whose opinion is the one that truly matters.

Today we still take the fruit—or deny ourselves the cake—to become godlike, people with bodies others will worship and serve. The tragic irony is that Adam and Eve were already like God, having been made in his image. But we attempt to remake ourselves through food into a form that others will worship.

3. We use food for identity instead of looking to God’s grace

For some food is aspirational. We use it to express the image or lifestyle to which we aspire. Organic and whole-food produce—these are the things that prove you’re enlightened and politically aware. Or maybe it’s steaks and burgers—they make you feel like a true man. Or maybe it’s pot roasts and home-baked apple pie like your grandmother made—they make you a traditional, all-American mom. Or maybe it’s cordon bleu and haute cuisine—they make you an urban and urbane sophisticate. Others manipulate food to prove themselves through their looks by obsessing about their calorie intake. We use or misuse food to form our identity instead of finding our identity in Christ. We use food to achieve identity instead of receiving it by grace.

The first thing that happens when Adam and Eve eat the fruit is that they feel shame (Genesis 3:7). Still today our attempts at self- salvation through food lead to shame. They generate body-image problems. Slimming programs can offer a kind of points-based religion. Salvation comes through being accepted by others, and a beautiful body is the means by which we save ourselves. Food is rated, so your progress toward salvation can be scored. Your life is assessed when you stand on the scales. Weight loss equals righteousness; weight gain equals condemnation.

4. We use food for refuge instead of looking to God’s goodness

We often use food as an escape instead of finding refuge in God. We self-medicate with food. We become priests bringing offerings of chocolate to ourselves. We find comfort in sugar, salt, and fat instead of the living God. The result is ill-health and weight gain. Some people then try to manage this through dieting, bulimia, or anorexia.

Life without God is an empty life, and we cannot fill that emptiness with food. We miss the opportunity to turn to God. We want to live by bread alone. We find true refuge in the comfort of God and true satisfaction in the goodness of God. Neither eating to live (food as fuel) nor living to eat (food as salvation) is right. We’re to eat to the glory of God and live to the glory of God. We're to gratefully receive food in all its wonderful variety as a gift from God as eating continues to express our dependence on him and our submission to his good reign.

(HT: Resurgence)

Afterthoughts: The Glory of God in Everyday Life

Yesterday we hit on the theme of idolatry as we affirmed the reality that we were made to worship God. Below is a post from a while back with a powerful video and with several solid resources on the subject. Jefferson Bethke:

You can also download this spoken word on iTunes (all proceeds go to benefit a new college ministry).

Some further resources on this important biblical theme:

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Fighting Sin

Some helpful thoughts here from Tim Keller on the dynamics of sin and a crucial step in fighting sin.

Every one of our sinful actions has a suicidal power on the faculties that put that action forth. When you sin with the mind, that sin shrivels the rationality. When you sin with the heart or the emotions, that sin shrivels the emotions. When you sin with the will, that sin destroys and dissolves your willpower and your self-control. Sin is the suicidal action of the self against itself. Sin destroys freedom because sin is an enslaving power.

In other words, sin has a powerful effect in which your own freedom, your freedom to want the good, to will the good, and to think or understand the good, is all being undermined. By sin, you are more and more losing your freedom. Sin undermines your mind, it undermines your emotions, and it undermines your will.

Sin Is Addiction

All sin is addiction. Whether it's bitterness, whether it's envy, whether it's materialism, whether it's laziness, whether it's impurity — every sinful action becomes an addiction. And every sinful action brings into your life a power that operates exactly like addiction cycles and addiction dynamics begin to operate.

In other words, in the specific addictions of alcohol or drug addiction, or voyeurism, or exhibitionism, or sexual addictions, you actually have a microcosm of how sin works in general.

You know how addiction works. It starts like this: There's some kind of disappointment or distress in your life. As a result you choose to deal with that distress with an agent; it might be sex, it might be drugs, it might be alcohol. The agent promises transcendence. The agent promises freedom, a sense of being in control, a sense of being above all this, a sense of being liberated, a sense of escape. And so you do it. But when you do it, when you take the addicting agent as a way of dealing with life, the trap is set.

The trap is set because three things begin to happen:

1. Tolerance. You get trapped into what the experts call the "tolerance effect." In other words, the tolerance effect is that today this or that amount of alcohol or drugs, or this kind of sexual experience, will pale in comparison to your desires tomorrow. The same activity will not give you that same experience any more, and you will find you need more and more and more. What brought you joy yesterday will not be enough to give you joy tomorrow, because your emotions are shriveling and numbing. There's a tolerance effect.

2. Denial. Addiction destroys because of denial. We all know part of addiction patterns is that your craving makes you rationalize and justify. It twists your thinking. You become selective in your reasoning, selective about your memory. You'll do all sorts of tortured rationalizations, but you refuse to think clearly and objectively. You can't.

3. Defeat. Addictions destroy willpower. You know you are an addict when you are trying to escape your distress with the very thing that brought you your distress. And when you are in that spiral, you are stuck forever — down and down and down and down.

Sin in general operates like that. When you think disobedience to God is going to bring freedom, the very act that promises freedom is taking the freedom. The very act that you think is putting you in the driver’s seat of your life is taking you out of the driver’s seat of your life.

Playing With Fire

The Bible defines sin as craving something more than God. Sin is making something more important than God. If you're just religious occasionally, if God is on the outskirts of your life, that is the essence of sin, and that sin grows.

Jonathan Edwards says sin turns the heart into a fire. Just as there has never been a fire that said, “Enough fuel, I’m fine now,” so there has never been a sinful heart that said, “I have had enough success. I’ve had enough love. I've had enough approval. I've had enough comfort.” Oh, no. The more fuel you put into the fire, the hotter it burns, and the hotter it burns, the more it needs, the more oxygen it is sucking and the more fuel it requires.

And this is the heart of the fire. Next time you are crabby, or grumpy, or irritable, or scared to death, or in the pits, ask yourself: What am I telling myself would make me happy if only I had it? There is an if only at the bottom of this. Whatever is your if only, that becomes your slave master. It destroys your will.

This explains how lies necessitate other lies. Envy necessitates more envy. Racism necessitates more racist thoughts. Jealously necessitates more jealous thoughts. Bitterness necessitates more bitter thoughts. In the beginning when you first tell a lie you still have an appetite for the truth, but it won't take long. Sin is a power. And the things you crave become your slave masters because in your heart those things burn with this idea: if only. Everything would be fine if only I had that. This creates a suction in your life. The more you throw in, the more it wants.

Winning the Firefight

If you are a Christian and you are dealing with enslaving habits, it's not enough to say, "Bad Christian, stop it." And it is not enough to beat yourself up or merely try harder and harder and harder.

The real reason that you're having a problem with an enslaving habit is because you are not tasting God. I'm not talking about believing God or even obeying God, I'm saying tasting — tasting God.

The secret to freedom from enslaving patterns of sin is worship. You need worship. You need great worship. You need weeping worship. You need glorious worship. You need to sense God’s greatness and to be moved by it — moved to tears and moved to laughter — moved by who God is and what he has done for you. And this needs to be happening all the time.

This type of worship is the only thing that can replace the little if only fire burning in your heart. We need a new fire that says, “If only I saw the Lord. If only he was close to my heart. If only I could feel him to be as great as I know him to be. If only I could taste his grace as sweet as I know it to be.”

And when that if only fire is burning in your heart, then you are free.

(HT: Desiring God)

Idols Don't Love Back

Some helpful thoughts here from Justin Buzzard exposing the folly of our idolatry.

Everyone has to live for something and if that something isn’t the one true God, it will be a false God–an idol.

An idol is anything more important to you than God. Therefore, you can turn even very good things into idols. You can turn a good thing like family, success, acceptance, money, your plans, etc. into a god thing–into something you worship and place at the center of your life.

This is what sin is. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything (even a good thing) more than God.

Do you know the idols you’re prone to worship? At our church we talk about 4 root idols that we tend to attach our lives to.

CONTROL. You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty.

APPROVAL. You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection.

COMFORT. You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands.

POWER. You know you have a power idol if your greatest nightmare is humiliation.

Here’s what you need to know about your idol: That idol that you love, it doesn’t love you back. False gods don’t love you. Idols don’t keep their promises. Anything you worship and build your life on other than God will suck the life out of you and destroy you.

A relationship with Jesus starts when you identify and turn from your idols. Notice what Jesus was always doing with people during his ministry–he was constantly identifying and challenging people’s idols, calling them to turn from their false objects of worship in order to follow and worship him.

I’m convinced that the reason there is so much shallow Christianity in our culture is because many people never displace the idolatry in their lives with Jesus, but instead simply bring in Jesus as an “add on” to their life, keeping their idolatry firmly in the center.

Americans think freedom is found in casting off all restraint and being masters of our own lives. What we are blind to is the reality that everybody has a master. We all worship something and whatever we worship is our master. Idols make bad masters. They enslave. Until you identify the idols in your life you will feel enslaved, tired, and unhappy and you won’t know why. You will feel this way until you discover the only master who can set  you free: Jesus. Jesus is the one master who will love you even when you fail him. Your idols don’t do that. Jesus is the one master who loved you when you were at your worst and who reigns over your life with perfect wisdom, power, and goodness. He’s the one master you can trust. Only he can give you freedom.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21

(HT: Justin Buzzard)

The Allure of Idolatry (then and now)

Idolatry is at the core of all of our problems as individuals- it is at the center of our falleness. In light of this, it's important to understand idolatry and why we are so drawn by it. The following is a great help in this-

Most Westerners have struggled at one time or another to understand the attraction of idolatry in the ancient world. What could be so compelling about an inanimate block of wood or chunk of stone? Hard core idolatry feels as tempting as beet juice. It’s likely someone out there loves a frothy glass of obscure vegetable extract, but the temptation doesn’t weigh heavily on our souls.

But idolatry made a lot of sense in the ancient world. And, had we lived two or three millennia ago, it almost certainly would have been tempting to each one of us. In his commentary on Exodus, Doug Stuart explains idolatry’s attraction with nine points. You’ll likely want to save this list and file it for future sermons or Bible studies.

1. Idolatry was guaranteed. The formula was simple. Carve a god out of wood or stone and the god would enter the icon. Now that you have a god in your midst, you can get his (or her) attention quickly. Your incantations, oaths, and offerings will always be noticed.

2. Idolatry was selfish. Scratch the gods backs and they’ll scratch yours. They need food and sacrifices; you need blessings. Do your stuff and they’ll be obliged to get you stuff.

3. Idolatry was easy. Ancient idolatry encouraged vain religious activity. Do what you like with your life. So long as you show up consistently with your sacrifices, you’ll be in good shape.

4. Idolatry was convenient. Gods in the ancient world were not hard to come by. Access was almost everywhere. Statues can be used in the home or on the go.

5. Idolatry was normal. Everyone did it. It’s how woman got pregnant, how crops grew, how armies conquered. Idolatry was like oil: nothing ran in the ancient world without it.

6. Idolatry was logical. Nations are different. People are different. Their needs and desires are different. Obviously, there must be different deities for different strokes. How could one god cover all of life? You don’t eat at one restaurant do you? The more options the better. They can all be right some of the time.

7. Idolatry was pleasing to the senses. If you are going to be especially religious, it helps to be able to see your god. It’s harder to impress people with an invisible deity.

8. Idolatry was indulgent. Sacrificing to the gods did not often require sacrifice for the worshiper. Leftover food could be eaten. Drink could be drunk. Generosity to the gods leads to feasting for you.

9. Idolatry was sensual. The whole system was marked by eroticism. Rituals could turn into orgies. Sex on earth often meant sex in heaven, and sex in heaven meant big rain, big harvests and multiplying herds.

Can you see the attraction of idolatry? “Let’s see I want a spirituality that gets me lots, costs me little, is easy to see, easy to do, has few ethical or doctrinal boundaries, guarantees me success, feels good, and doesn’t offend those around me.” That’ll preach. We want the same things they wanted.  We just go after them in different ways. We want a faith that gets us stuff and guarantees success (prosperity gospel). We want discipleship that is always convenient (virtual church). We want a religion that is ritualistic (nominal Christianity). Or a spirituality that no matter what encourages sexual expression (GLBTQ). We all want to follow God in a way that makes sense to others, feels good to us, and is easy to see and understand. From the garden to the Asherah pole to the imperial feasts, idolatry was the greatest temptation for God’s people in both testaments.

A look around and a look inside will tell you it still is.

(HT: Kevin DeYoung)

Desiring Good Things Too Much

Our hearts often go astray not in loving blatantly sinful things, but in loving good things too much. Consider the following quote:

[Many] desires are normal and natural and become sinful only by abuse. Good and lawful desires become corrupted when they are desired inordinately. When you want something good (such as desiring your spouse to love you, or your children to honor you, or your boss to treat you with respect) so much that you are willing to sin in order to fulfill your desire (or to sin as a result of your desire not being fulfilled), your desire becomes idolatrous. Such desires are sinful not because some new verse suddenly appeared in your Bible that says, ‘You shall not want your spouse to love you,’ or ‘You shall not desire your children to honor you,’ or ‘You shall not try to please your boss.’ They are wrong because you have longed for them too intently. What may have begun as a legitimate God-given desire has now metastasized and mutated into an inordinate one.

- Lou Priolo, Pleasing People, p. 37

(HT: Vitamin Z)

Singing Hallelujah

We sing several songs at Redemption that feature the word Hallelujah.  It's worth asking what we are saying and what is going through our minds when we sing this.  The following words from John Piper are a good summary to move us along.

The English word “hallelujah” is a transliteration of two Hebrew words, "hallelu" and "jah". The first word, "hallelu", is the second person imperative of “praise.” The second word, "jah," is the short form of "Jahweh" (or "Yahweh").

So when we say, “Hallelujah!” we are exhorting others (people and angels) to join us in praising Yahweh.

What gives a punch to my singing, “Hallelujah,” is that Jah (= Yahweh) is not a generic word for God, but the personal name of the God of Israel.

To shout, "Hallelu Jah!" — "Praise Jah" — is like standing in the council of the gods and boldly saying, “Not to you, Molech!” “Not to you, Baal!” “Not to you, Dagon!” “Not to you, Artemis!” “Not to you, Zeus!” But to Jah, and Jah alone, I give praise. And I call you to join me! Praise Jah!

And not only is Jah God’s personal name, but it is the one he gave himself to distinguish himself from all the gods. And it is thrilling in meaning.

When Moses asked God what name he should use to identify God in Egypt, God said, “I am who I am. Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I am has sent me to you’” (Exodus 3:14).

The name Yahweh is built on the words “I am”. So God put his absolute, transcendent, self-sufficient being at the center of his identity. “All the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but Yahweh made the heavens” (Psalm 96:5).

So, the next time you sing “Hallelujah” pause for a split second between “hallelu” and “Jah” and say it like a name. We praise you . . . Jah! You are above all gods . . . Jah! Join me, all you heavenly hosts, and praise . . . Jah! He is! He simply, eternally, absolutely, independently, gloriously Is! Hallelu . . . Jah!

(HT: Desiring God)

Fuel for Your Love

This quote from Jonathan Edwards is gold- but read it slowly and carefully- after all it is Jonathan Edwards we're talking about here.

Consider what Christ has done for you. He died for you. O what did he bear for you. If you knew the pains, the distress, and the agonies the glorious Son of God underwent for you, how would the thoughts of his kindness and love to you overcome you. . . .

God in Christ allows such little, poor creatures as you are to come to him, to love communion with him, and to maintain a communication of love with him. You may go to God and tell him how you love him and open your heart and he will accept of it. You may be familiar in your expressions of your love to Christ, as little or unworthy as you are, for he is near to you. He is come down from heaven and has taken upon him the human nature on purpose, that he might be near to you and might be, as it were, your companion. . . . You may place yourself in his divine embraces.

Therefore don’t let your unworthiness discourage you. Let it heighten your surprise and cause you to express your love in the most humble manner possible. But let it not keep you at a distance or change the expressions of your love. You may want humility in your love, but you never can be guilty of any excess in the joys of divine love. . . .

Let these considerations influence you to the love of God and Jesus Christ, to love them with a superlative love and love nothing contrary to them, and love nothing above them, and love nothing equal to them, and love nothing along with them with any parallel love. And express your love by doing for them by being willing all your days to labor and suffer for the glory of God. Can you think of living so as to dishonor God and to be a stumbling block to others and a disadvantage to religion without the utmost dread of it and being sick at the thought of it?

–Jonathan Edwards, “The Spirit of the True Saints Is a Spirit of Divine Love,” in The Glory and Honor of God: Volume 2 of the Previously Unpublished Sermons of Jonathan Edwards (ed. Michael McMullen; B&H, 2004), 338-41

(HT: Justin Taylor)

Afterthoughts: Psalm 96

Daily Dependence

Here's another quote from Tim Chester’s book A Meal with Jesus.  It turns out that eating is yet another way we can began to see and worship God in the details of daily life.

Eating is an expression of our dependence. God made us in such a way that we need to eat. We’re embedded in creation; this means that every time we eat, we’re reminded of our dependence on others. Few of us eat food we ourselves have grown and cooked. Even the more self-sufficient among us still rely on other people. Food forces us to live in community, to share, to cooperate, and to trade. In all societies there’s a division of labor, which means we work together to provide the food we need. The division of labor frees us from constant hunting and gathering to develop science and art. A humble loaf of bread expresses the mandate God gave humanity to develop agriculture, technology, society, commerce, and culture.

Above all, food expresses our dependence on God. Only God is self-sufficient. We are creatures, and every moment we’re sustained by him. Even our rebellion against him is only possible because he holds the fabric of our universe together by his powerful word. Our shouts of defiance against God are only possible with the breath he gives.

Every time we eat, we celebrate again our dependence on God and his faithfulness to his creation. Every time. Food is to be received with gratitude. “Taking the five loves … he gave thanks” (Luke 9:16 NIV).

“Nobody in the ancient world ever took their food for granted.” Today it’s different. Today we have Walmart. Walmart receives one of every five dollars customers spend on food. If it were a nation, Walmart’s economy would be larger than Argentina’s. In the UK the equivalent is Tesco. According to Andrew Simms, “there is little, now, that Tesco does not promise in terms of meeting your daily needs.” Notice the godlike language. “Not only does Tesco aspire to become the commercial equivalent of the nanny state, providing every product and service imaginable—something that is unhealthy for many reasons—it also aspires to have a store format for every location.” Tesco is omnipresent and omnipotent. Walmart is Walmart Jireh, Walmart the Provider. We may direct our prayers to God, but it’s Walmart to whom we go for daily bread.

“Give us each day our daily bread” (Luke 11:2-3). That is how Jesus teaches us to pray. We need to pray for our daily bread not because we’re worried about where our next meal might come from, but because we’re not.

We not only express our dependence on God by feasting, but also by fasting. Just as food points to the goodness of God, so the hunger of fasting reminds us of our need for God. Most of us rarely get hungry before the next intake of food comes along. When we perceive no need, then our self-sovereignty is undisturbed. But fasting brings our need to the fore. Fasting reminds us that we’re creatures. We’re not self-existent. As the hunger pain bites, we recognize with gratitude and prayer our dependence on creation, on community, and on God.

Fasting reminds us that we depend on God for physical satisfaction, but also for spiritual satisfaction. Our hunger for food heightens our hunger for God. We typically become grumpy when we’re hungry. Some of us medicate through food. Our habit when in need is to turn first to food for escape or refuge. Fasting retrains us to turn to God.

(HT: Challies)