idolatry in the heart

Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me.Then the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all? Therefore speak to them and tell them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: When any of the Israelites set up idols in their hearts and put a wicked stumbling block before their faces and then go to a prophet, I the Lord will answer them myself in keeping with their great idolatry. I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols.’

“Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:1-6

Idolatry is everywhere. Some might think of it as something of a bygone era, when people used to make images representing gods, and bow down and worship the god of the image. But idolatry essentially is anything in our hearts we put before God, either in being devoted to it, or trusting in it. Anything, period, even things which in themselves in their right place are good. But also things which are either questionable, or not good.

Idolatry always exacts a steep price, and devastating consequences. Although much of it might be subtle enough to cover a lifetime, yet with some less than desirable fruit along the way.

I wonder myself. What do I put in the place of God? What can easily become an idol to me? Do I think that if I had enough money, I would be okay? Hopefully I am not under that illusion, knowing that some of the most empty people in the world are driven by money, and will scuttle truth and righteousness to make more of it. Knowing scripture and life. And yet those kinds of idols can still make their appeal to us.

Idolatry. It’s something to think and pray about, asking for God’s discernment to uncover where we’re most prone to it. We’re to have no other gods before us, but the one true God. And as Jesus told us, we’re to worship God in spirit, in the Spirit, and in truth, because the Father seeks such worshipers, and because God is spirit. God alone deserves our worship, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is no other.

And in the process of wanting to learn what worship of God is, and wanting to put it into practice, we need to become aware of any idols we may have set up in our hearts. Things so close to heart that they are a part of us. But if idols, in an unhealthy way. And again, most of what we make into idols, in their proper place and in God’s intent, are good. But not all of them. Maybe some of them, at least for us, we need to get rid of forever. Or let go of for at least a time.

And it’s not enough to get rid of idols, if we don’t replace that with the worship of God. So that our practices of faith characterize our lives, who we are from day to day, and hour to hour. Something I frankly am not sensitive enough to, myself. And want to grow much in, in and through Jesus.

trusting in God against the grain of our own understanding

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

If there’s one stronghold that can bind me perhaps more than anything, I would say in a certain sense the desire to figure out or think through issues, and particularly problems so that I can make good, informed, wise decisions can dog me and actually turn against me. A synonymous name for this in my case is worry.

This is the case once again of a good thing becoming bad, of a blessing becoming a curse. God has given us our minds, and God wants to give us wisdom and understanding, insight for living. There is a difference however between trusting in the insight God has given us, and trusting in God himself. That may be too subtle for us to figure out, but it can play out something like this: We prayerfully read up on something which we have to do and in spite of what decision we would make based on our own understanding, something like the Lord’s peace seems to lie in the other direction. Or having asked God for direction, we make a decision only to later sorely regret it because it goes against the grain of our own understanding.

This is indeed tricky territory, not easy to negotiate no matter what. The question ends up being are we going to rely on God when making decisions, or on our own reasoning? It is not like our mind is suspended. God works with and through our minds, and to some extent they are likely processing in most every situation. Yes, we often have to make the best decisions on many things great and small, hopefully all the while looking to God for wisdom and for his leading.

In the end we have to trust the outcome of everything into God’s hands. That is part of the whole. The Lord may help us see something down the road which may more or less alter our course. Our responsibility is to work at it, rest in the decision made, and remain open to more light, in all of this trusting in and submitting to God. We can be sure that at least our lives can become more in sync with God and God’s will in Christ through this.

All of this part of the way of wisdom for us in Jesus.

when life seems unsettled

A few things are up in the air right now, the relatively minor one still rather major- the need to go car hunting again. I’ve been there and done that enough times now that we have a pretty good handle on how we do it. So that is not such a big deal, even though we want to be good stewards in all of life and get God’s wisdom and help even in this relatively small thing. Other matters, especially one, are pressing, and probably causing some undue stress if I’m not careful. Not that we can’t live by grace somehow beyond all of that. Actually I think we can, and I’m getting a bit better at it, at least to the point that I can see the difference in myself now from times past which itself is an encouragement. But to realize and keep before us our weakness and need for God’s strength and grace is always important.

And so I am thankful for God’s blessing and help to continue on in joy in spite of somewhat challenging circumstances and questions with reference to the present and future. We can be assured that God’s good will in Jesus will be done. And we want to be a part of that in terms of blessing for others, even as we are blessed in and through Jesus. Not necessarily in material things, but spiritually. All of our needs being met so that we can be a blessing and help to others in God’s abundant, overflowing life in Jesus.

 

by faith continuing on in an uncertain world

Life in this world is threatening on many levels. We try to guard ourselves and our loved ones insofar as we can, but nothing at all is foolproof. I am not so much referring to the danger that might come from our witness of the faith. I am referring more to the everyday hazards we all face. Along with the problems we can experience because of them.

I sometimes wonder about how much our theology plays into our sense of well being, whatever that is supposed to mean in this life. Surely more fundamental than that is our need to simply learn to trust and rest in God, whatever else is the case. On the surface it appears that life is just as random in its dangers for us as for anyone else. And we should be fine with that, since God’s love is not only for those who are his children by faith in Jesus, but for everyone- all of us God’s children by creation. In the end we know it’s all good in terms of the new creation in Christ. But we want to do well now when the stakes are so high. Could just part of the problem in this struggle be that we are getting knocked off our feet, so to speak, simply because we’re losing sight of what our existence in Jesus is all about? It is not for our good, but for the good of others. We are expendable, yet at the same time we can trust that God’s good hand and full protection is on us now, as long as his call remains on our lives. I think of the Apostle Paul’s suffering, yes, for his witness, how he was even stoned. And that his thorn in the flesh may be tied to some eye problem through that. Yet he carried on by grace to the very end in and through Jesus. For him life was about one thing: Christ, pursuing and serving him in service to others. As he testified to the good news of Jesus.

We are limited for any good number of reasons. But what we do have, we need to put into service with all our heart, and continue to grow in all that is good in and through Christ. And we do that not only by ourselves but with others. By faith continuing on to the very end.

trusting in the Lord

Last evening I was watching what has become my favorite program as of late (in fact, my only program; I don’t as a rule watch television, in fact I can’t remember having one favorite program), Cosmos. This program was both encouraging and astounding. We like to think we have some sort of control, or that life somehow depends on us, at least to some extent. But this program (well worth the watch) is a reminder that so much is really beyond us. How we came into being in the first place, made of star dust along with our wonderful world, earth. Of course we believe all from the hand of God. Just as scientists can tell something, and actually more and more, helping us all see something of the immensity and complexity of it all—what constitutes the material realm, and how it carries on—so by faith we can actually be taken up into something of the Creator’s plans, God’s loving work in and through Jesus.

The Lord wants to lead me personally within community, to be sure. But I need to have something of a grasp on just how little I have a grasp on anything at all. Paradoxically we find strength in weakness, light in darkness, knowledge in our ignorance. What I’m trying to get at is just how much we need to realize that this life—both the big and the small—is really quite beyond us. Instead of thinking that we have something figured out, and we’re expected to corral the matter, and take care of it, we would finally learn some wisdom and apply the same by backing off, and finding something of the Lord’s peace and direction. I speak from experience, although not much in the way of really doing well in this, I’m afraid.

Not that the Lord won’t have something for us to do, or that we won’t have some part in solving a matter, because often we likely will. Although in answer to prayer, we will see solutions we never would have seen otherwise. Part of the answer might be to wait. To back off and not jump to conclusions as to what needs to be done. There is after all so much we don’t know.

And so I want to grow in simple faith, simply trusting the Lord, which means not relying on my own understanding. Knowing he knows and is at work for good. In and through Jesus.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.

the strange voice of unbelief

But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.

Jesus’ words here pertaining to his sheep are quite apt in a world often riddled with pretentious unbelief. That the sheep might become quite defensive as a result should be taken as no surprise.

The voice of the Good Shepherd rings strong and true to the sheep which are in the habit of both hearing that voice and following the Shepherd’s directions. Not that there aren’t times when it is difficult to hear the voice well. I find that to be the case when I drown it out with all kinds of noise both from myself and from the world. I want to hear others, yes in a sense I need to hear myself as well. But first and foremost we need to be quiet and still so that we can hear clearly enough the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus.

I may not always like what I hear, and I certainly won’t understand it all of the time. I don’t mean in terms of clarity: our Lord speaks to us in ways we can understand, as our Pastor Sharon has reminded us. I mean as far as “getting it” is concerned, we may well be at a loss as to what is going on. The directive may not make sense to us; we may be inclined in another direction. Those times are critical for us as well. We need to listen all the harder, and seek to follow all the more closely during such times. The problem lies in us, and our good is found in the directive will of God as coming to us in the voice of the Good Shepherd.

When we are left feeling condemned, lost and in despair, that is a sure sign we are not hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd at all, but rather, an impostor. As in the text of our Lord’s words above, we then need to turn tail and run.  But we must not only run from, but run toward, toward the Good Shepherd, so that we might once again hear his voice. Finding his ongoing comfort and care. As we continue to follow.

John Walton on the book of Job teaching us to trust God no matter what

The message of Job is that we must trust God’s wisdom when we encounter suffering or crises, rather than attempting to figure out answers to the “why” questions. We should not think that the cosmos itself reflects God’s attributes of justice or that we can hold God accountable to running the cosmos according to justice moment by moment. If he were to do so, none of us would survive, for we all embody injustice at some level in our sinful condition. So justice would involve punishing us.

Trusting God’s wisdom does not mean adopting a belief that everything that happens to us ultimately represents justice even though we cannot see why that is so. Trust is not the conviction that there is a good reason (=explanation that justifies the suffering) even when we cannot fathom it. In other words, the book does not suggest a hidden, deeper justice behind what we perceive as injustice. If we were to think in those terms, we would still be clinging to justice as the foundation of the system and simply theorizing alternative ways that it could function, as Elihu did.

Instead, the book posits that God, in his wisdom, is willing to allow injustice in this world—perhaps  sometimes as a means to a greater end, but even that does not offer an explanation that justifies the suffering. We can assume that it grieves his heart, for he is just. In his wisdom, he elevates purposes above reasons… Even here, however, we must tread carefully. We cannot know reasons, and we cannot assume that there are reasons. We should assume that there are purposes, but that does not mean that we can or will ever know those purposes. The injustice, suffering, trials, and crises that we experience shape us into the people we are and the people God desires us to be. The truth is not intended to bring comfort to those suffering, nor does it do so. It is meant to bring understanding that might prevent us from committing Job’s error, which is the easy solution of blaming God. The alternative is to trust God.

John H. Walton, Job (The NIV Application Commentary), 415.

doubting doubt

I haven’t read the recent books I’m aware of on doubt (here and here). So I really can’t be fair to the authors until I do. From what I’ve read from them both, I can agree at least some with both, though they are not in agreement with each other.

It seems popular nowadays to make doubt a virtue, or at least an aspect of faith. Acknowledging one’s doubts, in a sense can be a virtue. It is a part of faith in that it is authentic. We are not saying we believe or trust, just because we’re supposed to. We’re acknowledging our struggle and doubts. That can be an important step toward a more firm, solid faith in God and in God’s revelation in Christ. Our faith needs to be real, not something put on.

But what I pick up nowadays is an openness to leave the faith behind if it’s found to be untrue. I speak as one who believes true Christians can abandon their faith and the faith altogether. I see in a sense both an objectivity as well as a subjectivity to the faith. Objectively there is solid evidence that Jesus indeed rose from the dead. A good number of skeptics have come to faith examining that evidence. Subjectively there is a mystical connection to God through Jesus by the Spirit, in which there is the strong sense that the faith is real. And so these two aspects together rather seal the deal for myself. But add a third.

I often am hit hard with this or that trial in which it seems that God is not only absent, but that everything is unraveling, and I myself feeling like I’m coming unglued. I see the same kind of experience in scripture, even echoed by our Lord on the cross:  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I have been around the block enough times to know that no matter what I’m going through and no matter how close to the edge I might feel, I simply need to hang in there, and keep looking to the Lord, and in time, seems shorter now than it used to be, I am back to some sense of normalcy. Maybe not exactly the same as before, but at least with the sense that my feet are under me again, so that I can walk well enough again in the walk of faith. And I would say with an additional element added, so that perhaps my faith is deepened.

Another problem I have is with the readiness nowadays to downplay propositional truth, or virtually deny it altogether. In place of that is supposed to be the superior, indeed real faith of trust, trust in a person over faith in propositions. That seems quite strange. How can I trust a person  if I don’t trust what that person says, or communicates to me? What can enter into that discussion is the thought that we know only in part, and know nothing at all in the way God knows. And in that, we can be quite mistaken. Okay, well and good. But God reveals himself and his will in ways we can understand. Yes, it may be piecemeal, and yet it is sufficient both in our knowing and the truth that is revealed. I find this argument which I see repeatedly not very persuasive or helpful. Yes, the emphasis of faith should indeed be trust in a person, the person of God—of course in three persons—made known in Christ by the Spirit. But it follows from that that I should indeed accept what that person tells me, tells us, in the words of Jesus and through the writing of scripture.

And so I’m left with doubt to some extent, as something I have to struggle through in the pursuit of an authentic faith. And doubting what doubt I have. Within no less than a commitment to remain true in the faith, by grace, to the very end.

For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time for my departure is near. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.

 

remaining like a little child

There is nothing I like better I suppose then some good intellectually challenging stuff, of course within the realm of my knowledge and education, even if sometimes I like to be pushed by something which seems altogether foreign. And there are few things I dislike more than trying to solve some matter intellectually, which is bothering me, something like a brushfire, not challenging the faith for me, but certainly a challenge to my own faith.

I think it is okay for me to ask questions, pursue answers, even working through difficult places. But one thing I don’t do well to forget or leave behind is the need to remain like a little child before my Father God.

Jesus told his disciples that unless they would change and become like little children, they would never enter the kingdom of heaven. This life we are called to in Jesus is a life of implicit trust, as well as implicit obedience. Something we probably have to learn and grow into, something which hopefully becomes more and more a part of who we are. “Trust and obey…” And living in joy, the joy of the Lord.

This can be all very much a challenge for me, since it has been almost characteristic of me to not only encounter trouble, but to be very much troubled. I suppose this is not all that uncommon, but if we are overcome with this problem, we may do well to ask ourselves if we really are one of God’s children through faith in Jesus. If we are, we need to remember that and act on it, which may often mean not acting at all.

A good psalm to remember and pray and aspire to:

Psalm 131

A song of ascents. Of David.

giving everything to God

Old habits are hard to break, and that includes ways of thinking. We may actually know better, but be so used to the old way of thinking that we continue to live there, or it becomes our default position given the right situation. What is needed is the renewing of our minds so that we might live in God’s good will.

What becomes key is the essential need to turn everything over to God in faith. To really entrust ourselves, our lives, and the details of our lives to him.  This well known verse from Proverbs continues to be a verse I have to come back to, and seek better to live out and live in:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

In short I have to give everything to God. Most definitely I will make mistakes along the way. And the old propensity to worry and fear I may sometimes be starkly reminded of, even as fear rushes in at times. But in all of that, in everything, I need to learn to entrust myself to God and let his peace that surpasses all understanding guard my heart and my mind in Christ Jesus, as I turn everything over to him in prayer with thanksgiving.

This is ongoing for me. I think I do better in this than in times past. It is a matter of growth. And the forming of new habits and from that, inclinations, to replace the old. So that God may more and more have his way in my life, together with others in Jesus for the world.