February 28, 2014

Battles for His throne

On this the last day of my study concerning idols, I must affirm John Calvin’s statement that the human heart is an idol-making factory. My heart constantly battles substitutes that claim its throne as  thoughts and all sorts of lesser gods try to rule instead of Jesus Christ. It’s easy to see that this could be a continual battle. If Satan cannot find a way in, the world and its allure will tempt me, and if that cannot put an idol on the throne, then my own sinful desires will do it.

Jesus shows me how to deal with these usurpers. The first one is Satan . . .

Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written, “ ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “ ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “ ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’ ” Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’ ” Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “ ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him. (Matthew 4:1–11)

One great comfort from this passage is that temptation is not from God but it can be allowed by God. The Holy Spirit led Jesus into this. In my case, my sinful self is often the culprit, but God is in charge of my life. He can “lead me not into temptation” if that is His plan. Jesus’ obedience was tested as God’s Son. In similar ways, all God’s other children are tested. Where often fail, but His success sets a pattern for us.

As for the attacks and allurements of the world, the Word of God comes to my aid with this . . .

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17)

All idol-provoking forces must be challenged by truth from the Word of God as most of my battle is in the mind. For that, God says, “. . . by the mercies of God, present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1–2) Again, the Word of God is my weapon.

In using it, those battles require me to reinforce my heart by putting off those passions and patterns that leave me open to idol-making . . .

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Colossians 3:1–10)

More verses describe what to “put on” such as: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forgiveness, and love, a list that focuses on godly attitudes and actions that will put keep me on the side of righteousness. It concludes, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)

My heart has times of calm where Jesus joyfully fills me with Himself. But that throne is often threatened by other usurpers, more or different than before, and the tests begin. While I suspect this war will go on throughout life, He has promised to never leave or forsake me, and that I am more than a conqueror because of His mercy and grace.

February 27, 2014

Loving obedience topples idols . . .

Sometimes Christians talk about the love of God saying, “Well, I can love that person but I don’t have to like him.” This comes from the teaching that God’s love is sacrificial giving, as if there is no emotion in it. However, this is an error in at least two ways. One, loving others does include affection . . .

Let love be genuine. Abhor what is evil; hold fast to what is good. Love one another with brotherly affection . . . (Romans 12:9–10)

Not only that, the love of God isn’t about controlling my actions and emotions, but letting the Lord Jesus Christ control what I do and how I feel. In Christ, I’m not to say such things as “I can love but not like” someone, because I’m not living for myself . . .  

For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14–15)

Being in Christ means that Christ is living in me and I have surrendered to Him. This results in a huge change. My life isn’t about me any longer. I have the mind of Christ and a new direction, new goals . . .

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. (2 Corinthians 5:17–20)

All this happens, but only as I abide in Christ. If I take back the throne of my life, then I will think and act like anyone else, like the old me. Abiding or staying in Him means obedience and loving others as He loves them . . .

Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me . . . If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you . . . If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full . . . This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you . . . You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another. (John 15:4–17)

During this study on idolatry, I’ve learned that the way to avoid putting people on a pedestal and making idols of them is by loving them in God’s way instead of selfishly. Idol worship is selfish. It is putting up a ‘god’ of my own invention that does what I want it to do, or so I think. It is allowing that ‘god’ to take the place of God in my thinking and dependence.

The love of God is opposite. It is without selfishness and does not change or reinvent God in any way. Instead of expecting Him to do what I want, I obey Him with all my heart and rely on Him for everything. This cannot happen without a commitment of faith and of obedience – in response to God who has changed my life through His Word and the power of Jesus Christ.

Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God . . . (1 Peter 1:22–23)

The sequence is clear . . . the Word of God speaks . . .  through it I have been born again . . . I obey the truth He reveals . . . my soul is purified to sincerely love others from a pure heart. I cannot pick and choose who I will “love” but not “like.” If that is happening, then I’m deluded and am listening to the wrong god, an idol on the throne of my life.

February 26, 2014

No idol can do what God can . . .

The day that Christ entered my life was sunny. I remember sitting on my front step soon after that encounter and marveling at the change in my understanding. Truly the sky seemed bluer and the flowers more brilliant, but what I noticed most was a new attitude toward people.

Prior to becoming a Christian, I knew that I should care more about people, but I could not make that happen. I was more concerned about me and that was that. But Jesus made a difference, and I immediately noticed the change in my affections. Of course, that was a mere beginning. Love starts as a trickle before it becomes a Niagara!

As I drop the idols that pull me away from God, the Lord reminds me of what a friend once said, “When I love God, that does not mean that I hate my wife.” I’m to love others, but with the right kind of love, God’s love.

The love of idolatry, if it can be called love, is different from the love of God. Idolatry is all about what that idol (which can be money, fame, even another person) can do for me. The love of God is about what I can do for others. John describes it well, then adds this clarification . . .

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother. (1 John 4:19–21)

Hating others makes loving God impossible. He says we demonstrate our love for Him by obeying what He commands, and He commands us to love one another. As a non-Christian, I knew the command but had no power to obey. I probably didn’t really want to anyway, but Christ made the difference.

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Christ is the answer to the love question. From Him comes the love that God commands. His love is not like mine. He never places it in the wrong god because He has no attraction to idols of any sort. When my attitude toward money, fame, other people and any potential idol is the same as His attitude, then idolatry is not a problem.

Furthermore, my love fades or gives up when the object of it no longer does what I want, no longer feeds my ego, or fills my pocketbook, or blesses me in some way. His love is not like that. It endures . . .

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods, for his steadfast love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords, for his steadfast love endures forever . . . (Psalm 136:1–3)

Loving others in the power of Christ usually involves some sort of personal sacrifice, yet I still benefit for I am also receiving that love that He asks me to pass on to others. In that, my love for Him increases. The math might not work, but the love of God isn’t math. He keeps giving and the more I give back, the more I receive.

The love of God means that I can love Him too. He saved me and gives me eternal hope. I love Him for He is my strength (Psalm 18:1) and “I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy.” (Psalm 116:1) But most of all, I love Him because He first loved me.

February 25, 2014

Love replaces idols

I've been taught that eros, phileo, and agape are Greek words used for “love” and each has a distinctive meaning. However, one of my seminary professors says that the words themselves are not used that way in the Bible and all of them must be defined by their context.

That said, when I read the encounter of Peter with the risen Christ, I’m aware that different words for love have been used. Because of this, the understanding of this passage could be affected. However, just reading it in the context of the events John has subscribed, it is more likely that Jesus repeated His question because Peter had denied Him three times . . .

He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:17)

I feel the pathos in Peter. I’ve also failed to confess Jesus many times, and disobeyed Him more times than I can count. Yet when I bow before Him, if He said to me, “Do you love me?” I would say that I did, and feel the conflict in my words. I know that if I love Him, I should do what He says.

Yet the love of God does not depend on my performance. If He can love me even when I turn my back on Him, how can I not love Him? This is a love of gratitude, not a love that He requires me to prove. As with Peter, He simply asks me to use the gifts He’s given me to minister to others.

Making mistakes and falling on my nose are part of the Christian experience. We are climbing a mountain, growing in our likeness to Christ. It does not happen overnight, nor is our love perfected overnight. Look at the words used here . . .

Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints. (1 Thessalonians 3:11–13)

He says “increase” and “may establish” – words about an ongoing growth, not an instant one. If it were, then John would not have had to write this . . .

By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. (1 John 3:16–18)

 . . .  and Jesus would not have had to say this . . .

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:34–35)

I’m nearly to the end of this two-month study of idolatry. In this time, God has helped me identify some people and things that I’ve used as substitutes for faithful devotion to Him. I feel lighter and more joyful than I ever imagined. All I can say is what the Bible has been telling me . . .  “Love God . . .  and keep yourselves from idols.”

February 24, 2014

Mirrors: Shiny or Muddy?

Are people naturally bad and sinful, or naturally good? The most common idea is that people are basically good, an idea that most Christians would oppose. We have verses to quote that back up our understanding that people are sinful through and through . . .

As it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10–12)

Yet there is another way to look at this question, a way that could create a stir, at least it stirs me. God created human beings to reflect His image. That is, we are mere mirrors without an identity except to reflect the identity of our Creator. This means we are basically grand beings with a lofty purpose.

The biggest problem is that we are not doing what we were created to do. Rebellion against God put “mud on the mirror” so to speak, and our reflecting ability is marred by sin. Not only that, the mud blinds us to our true condition and instead of realizing or even acknowledging our original purpose, the sin-filled mind spends most of life trying to establish its own way, its own purpose.

Yet deep in the human heart beats a desire to be right with God. He “put eternity in our hearts” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) and gives us a desire to pass the test of judgment day, and to spend eternity with Him. He also introduced His laws and commands, but even those have been misinterpreted. Most people think that these are the tests that if kept will put them on the right side of God. That is not true, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.” (Romans 3:20) His law is intended to show us our mud.

Not only that, living as a mirror is not about keeping rules, but about being humbly dependent. Only those who acknowledge the mud and have it washed from their lives can reflect the image of God. The forgiven soul may not do it perfectly, yet with Christ living in our hearts by faith, the Christian becomes a mirror again and that lofty purpose begins to be fulfilled.

You’d think that the world would rejoice at the appearance of shining, polished reflections of God, but the opposite is surprisingly true. Those still covered in mud do not understand or accept innocence, purity, absence of self-seeking, or anything that resembles God. In fact, Jesus warned His disciples that this would be so . . .

Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. (Matthew 10:16–18)

It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. (Matthew 10:25)

For this reason, many Christians shrink back from our true calling of total dependence and reflecting God. We add a little mud to make ourselves like those around us, to keep us from being persecuted. If we go our own way, at least six days of the week, no one will notice the shine of our mirrors.

Yet the Creator isn’t letting us get away with this fearful response. He disciplines us and continues to polish and shine our lives because He loves us as a Father loves His children, and nothing can change what He is doing . . .

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. (Romans 8:35–37)

I fully realize the glory of the love of Christ, but also realize that it does not protect me from those horrors that try to separate me from His love or from the rejection of other muddy mirrors who will throw rocks at me and laugh. I will suffer when I shine, maybe even die because I believe in Jesus,For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14–15)

Weighing this against living for myself makes no sense except that Jesus stands with me so I can be who I am and shine even under persecution. If I decide to go the other way, I will stand alone, doing my own thing, and covered with mud.