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Tuesday, February 28, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 3-4

These next chapters remind us of the basic truths underlying our salvation & Christian life. There's often much confusion in these areas, resulting in a lack of understanding and appreciation for the hopelessness of our former position before a holy God and His past, current and future work of grace in our lives. Note how all three persons of the Godhead work together for the benefit of those whom He "foreknew ...predestined ...called ...justified ...glorified" (Romans 8:29-30). As humans we're very ego-centric, viewing reality from our own limited perspective. It's humbling to consider the work of God behind the scenes to bring about His purposes.

Fitzpatrick examines God's moral law as a reflection of His holy character and as a revealer of our own sinfulness. The law was never intended to be the means of salvation. Its function was to be our "tutor" to make us aware of our great spiritual need and then lead us to Christ, that "we may be justified by faith". (Gal.3:24) In the sermon on the mount Jesus carefully explained the only possible terms by which a man can come to God ... by approaching Him as one who is fully aware of his own spiritual bankruptcy and neediness before a holy God. "Blessed are the poor in spirit," He taught. Theirs is the kingdom of heaven because only they can understand the futility of an already unrighteous man ever becoming righteous through self-effort! (Mt.5:3) Only they can "mourn" over their sins before a holy God and be comforted by Him. (Mt.5:4) Only they can be "meek/submissive/obedient" before God. (Mt.5:5) Only they can "hunger and thirst for (God's) righteousness". (Mt.5:6) Only they "shall see God." (Mt.5:8) Fitzpatrick echoes Jesus' words...
The law helps me by serving as a tutor. ("Blessed are the poor in spirit" - those who understand their own spiritual bankruptcy before a holy God.) ...if I examine myself in God's mirror (the perfect law), I find that I am failing in every conceivable way.
The law also humbles me and brings me to the end of my self-righteousness. ("Blessed are those that mourn" - over their sin against a holy God.) As Paul writes, "I would not have come to know sin except through the Law" (Rom.7:7). ...I have nothing for which to commend myself before a completely holy God. That's a good place for my soul to be in because it causes me to throw myself wholly on His mercy to me through Christ. It strips away my illusions of goodness and helps me to see how much I am in need of God's forgiveness.
The law teaches me how thankful I am to be for Christ's perfect keeping of it. ("Blessed are the meek" - those who are meekly/humbly obedient before a holy God.) I am bound to Christ because He kept it perfectly, then bore the punishment for my law breaking in His body. By this my heart is prompted to overflow with love and obedience.
The law becomes the standard of righteousness that I seek to obey out of thankfulness. ("Blessed are those who hunger & thirst after [God's] righteousness.") Like a thankful child seeking to please a favored parent, my desire for holiness wells up out of a heart filled with gratitude. ...My righteousness is secure in Christ's perfect obedience for me, and by the work of His Spirit, I am becoming "zealous for good deeds." (Titus 2:14)
At salvation God begins His work of sanctification (Chapter 4, 'The Heart Changer') in the lives of His people. His goal is for us "to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Rom.8:29). At salvation the Holy Spirit indwells the believer and begins His life-long work of sanctification ... a "setting apart" for God's holy purpose. 
There is only one life-changing power in all the world: the Holy Spirit. He continuously works in mysterious yet profound ways causing us to be holy, even as He is.
The means He uses is God's revealed Word. We're not passive in the process; it's a cooperative effort energized by God and resulting in our willing obedience. God commands, "putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation" (i.e. sanctification). (1 Peter 2:1-2) There's both a "putting off" of the works of the flesh/sin nature and a "putting on" of a desire to know God's Word, so that we may  know Him at an ever-increasing depth of understanding! Fitzpatrick outlines the different ways the Holy Spirit uses God's Word to make us holy. "You shall be holy for I am holy," (1Pet.1:6) He has determined for those united to Christ.
Teaching Us the Glories of Christ. Like a master artist, the Spirit paints an exquisite portrait of Christ's perfections upon the canvas of our souls: illustrating His love, mercy, wisdom, kindness, humility, holiness, sorrows, and sweet amiableness. ...Embracing Christ's beauty and glory is essential, because worship is a product of love. As the Holy Spirit illumines your heart to Christ's beauty, your love will grow. The false gods that entice will lose their appeal. The Spirit makes us God-worshipers."
Conviction of Sin. The Spirit powerfully convicts the world about the sin of unbelief. The sin of unbelief lies at the heart of all other sins and particularly at the heart of idolatry.
Conviction about Righteousness. It is particularly important for us to contemplate Christ's perfect nature because idolatry is always an assault against the character of God. Every time our hearts turn toward the worship of false gods we're saying, God isn't really good. He's not righteous. He's not loving or holy. I have to find other gods who will satisfy me because Jesus either can't or won't.
Conviction about Judgment. "The Son of God appeared for this purpose, to destroy the works of the devil" (1Jn.3:8) When you are tempted to think that the battle is lost and you might as well give up and serve other gods, plead with the Spirit to help you know that your enemy is a condemned death-row criminal awaiting execution of his sentence (Rev.20:10).
Writing His word on our hearts. God's law now governs our lives internally, from our heart, as the Spirit helps us understand its meaning and applies it in our day-to-day lives. ...This anointing from the Holy Spirit guides us into all truth (Jn.16:13). He teaches us so that we can come to know God as He is, rather than how we imagine Him to be.
Inclining our hearts to worship Him. Without the work of God's Spirit, we'll worship everything, rather anything, but God. He must work, then, to incline our hearts to worship Him. (1 Kings 8:57-58) Solomon understood that the Holy Spirit needed to incline the hearts of his people to proper worship.
Convincing us we are God's children. (Rom.8:15-16) The realization of His close relation to you should encourage you to focus all your love and devotion on Him.
Teaching us to pray. As we struggle with our sinful idolatry, we'll frequently find ourselves in prayer for wisdom, strength, true hatred of sin, and love of righteousness. ...The Spirit knows what the Father's will is, and He guides us in our prayers.
The work of God in our lives demonstrates His faithfulness to us and is our strongest weapon against idolatry. "God is faithful ... Therefore, flee from idolatry." (1Cor.10:13-14) These are the truths we need to steep ourselves in, to remember always, to cherish closely whenever we are tempted to trust anything or anyone other than God.

Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick
[Review: Intro, Chapters 1-2]

Monday, February 20, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 1-2

When most believers read the first commandment in Exodus 20:3, "You shall have no other gods before Me," they breathe a sigh of relief and mentally cross that sin off their list. Phew! No problem there! No little stone statues in my house! When we read of Israel's struggles with idolatry in the Old Testament, how often do we think, "What pointless behavior to replace the eternal, all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God with an impotent idol!"? In her book, Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone, Elyse Fitzpatrick notes how "we've conveniently categorized idolatry as something that exists outside of us (little stone statues) rather than something that lives within our hearts." If you spend much time in Scripture, you'll begin to notice how many times NT believers are warned against idolatry. It's as much of a struggle for us today as it was for the nation Israel then, because the issue of idolatry is much larger than just those little stone statues. (Col.3:5) The Apostle John, addressing church age believers, warns, "Little children, guard yourselves from idols." (1 John 5:21) Think about it. What is really most "precious" to you?

Chapter 1 "Rachel's Gods and You"
Admittedly, I am not a fan of "speculative bibliology". God holds me accountable to "rightly divide" His Word and I try to be very careful to never go beyond what has been written. In order to determine God's main point in each passage one must pay strict attention to what IS said as well as what IS NOT said. Though Fitzpatrick gives a disclaimer that her speculations behind biblical accounts are not inspired, they do have the effect of influencing your opinion about a passage. I recommend skipping over these introductory speculations and going straight to her exposition. 

Rachel's childlessness is offered as a prime example of creating an idol in your heart. She allowed her childlessness to take the place of primary importance in her life, thereby devaluing God's position. This becomes evident in Genesis 30:1, 'Now when Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she became jealous of her sister; and she said to Jacob, "Give me children, or else I die."' Thus begins a downward spiral in her life, taking her further and further away from her God. By the next chapter we discover she has stolen her father Laban's household gods. Fitzpatrick writes,
Because of her infertility and everything it represented to her, Rachel had come face to face with an insurmountable problem .. She feared that she had to take steps to protect her position. She believed her father's gods would somehow bless her, so she took them. Perhaps she believed that there might be a God who ruled the earth, but He was too far away and too unmanageable for her comfort. She couldn't trust Him to order life as she desired. She needed a tamer, more docile god - one she could control. She wanted a god that would give her what she needed.
Commentators suggest several possibilities for why Rachel may have taken Laban's household gods. Whatever that reason may have been, taking them demonstrates her lack of trust in God's sovereign control of her life, replacing it with a trust in herself and her own abilities to bring about her desires. John Calvin commented on this passage ...
When [Moses] relates that Rachel stole her father's idols, he is speaking of a vice that was common. From this we may gather that man's nature ... is a perpetual factory of idols.
Fitzpatrick defines the problem, "Idols aren't just stone statues. No, idols are the thoughts, desires, longings, and expectations that we worship in the place of the true God. Idols cause us to ignore the true God in search of what we think we need." How do we recognize the idols in our heart? "If you're willing to sin to obtain your goal or if you sin when you don't get what you want, then your desire has taken God's place and you're functioning as an idolater. ...Jesus said that the primary love in your heart has to be centered on God. Anything less than that is idolatry." (Mt.22:37-38)

Chapter 2 "Undivided Adoration"
Chapter 2 opens with a look at Martha and Mary. Have you ever noticed you're more likely to struggle to find time to spend with the Lord in His Word and in prayer than you are to serve Him? Many of us are such "doers" we forget we're primarily meant to be "worshipers". The "doing" is to be an outcome of worship, not our primary focus or goal! How often we get that confused! "Yes, I love God, but I'm a little busy working for Him right now ... so I'll spend time with Him later." Ouch.

Another idol-making temptation common to women is in dealing with our children. Fitzpatrick offers the example of Eli who did not discipline his sons, thinking more of pleasing them than of pleasing God. God charged him with his idolatry, "Why do you ... honor your sons above Me?" (1 Sam.2:29) 
Eli thought more of peace in his household than peace with God, so he neglected his duty and brought disgrace on the Lord. The pleasure of having a peaceful relationship with his sons functioned as his god. ...Honoring God means that the Lord's pleasure and glory come first. It means giving respect and deference to Him and esteeming Him above the thoughts of those we love.
A third area where we may be tempted to become idol worshipers is during times of adversity. We "know" we can trust God in all things. We "know" He is good in every sense. We "know" He loves His people. We "know" He is in control of all things. But we don't trust His providence in our life at this moment, in this situation, under these circumstances. Fitzpatrick confesses,
I frequently find myself hedging my bets and questioning God's goodness and truthfulness. I do believe that God is good and that I can trust His word, but that belief is always in competition with other beliefs and fears in my heart:
  • You can trust God for salvation and those religious things, but when it comes to your marriage, you need to follow your way.
  • When it comes to living a self-disciplined, joyful life, God doesn't expect obedience from you. Your disobedience isn't idolatry, sinful fear, or the love of the world.
Are you convinced yet about the danger of idols in your life? If so, be encouraged that God provides believers with the ability to turn from idols to serve the living God. "...His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through/by means of the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence." (2Pet.1:3) I've certainly seen Him chipping away at the idols in my own life. It's not something that happens quickly or magically or without pain. It calls for a steadily increasing knowledge of who God is, of what it means to become Christ-like (God's sanctifying goal for all believers) and a concentration on faithful obedience to God's truth whatever our "feelings/emotions" may be at the moment. It takes time ... it takes making one step after another ... it takes spiritual warfare. But the rewards of full joy in Christ, of freedom from our idols, of glorifying God in our attitudes and actions is of infinite worth! May God open our eyes to the idols we may be cherishing in His place as we read through this book together! To God be the glory.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Exhort Your Soul (Psalm 103)

I've been reading through Psalms lately and as usual find myself so encouraged by the observations and practical biblical worldview of the Psalmists. In the following post, Ryan Griffith at Desiring God echos the biblical insights Martyn Lloyd-Jones offered in his book, Spiritual Depression: Its Causes & Cures. [see related post] May Griffiths' words help you gain a God-honoring, soul-satisfying perspective.

Do you talk to yourself? 

I don’t mean when you’re wrestling through your taxes or walking through your to-do list. But do you talk yourself, really? When you are fearful, do you command your soul to trust in the Lord?  When your affections are low, do you command your heart to bless the Lord? As Paul Tripp is fond of saying, “no one is more influential in your life than you are because no one talks to you more than you do.” 

In the particularly difficult moments of the day, how do you talk to yourself? How do you specifically exhort yourself to hope in God? 

Psalm 103 has been immensely helpful for me as a pattern for commanding my soul in seasons of low affection. The Psalm begins (Ps.103:1-2) and ends (Ps.103:20-22) with David’s exhortation to his own soul to bless the Lord. While there is much to draw out of this rich text, I’d like to highlight two observations:

1. Remind yourself of what the Lord has done

Sin, pain, or sorrow can blind us to God’s present working and, occasionally, even the miraculous ways He's worked in our lives in the past. And while we might argue with our journal or with our memory, God’s work in redemptive history is unassailable. David helps us by reminding himself (and us) of God’s irrevocable work for His people in history:
The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known His ways to Moses, His acts to the people of Israel.
David takes us (and himself) back to the most pivotal event he can think of. And it's not in the valley of Elah with five smooth stones in his hand and a sling by his side. In fact, it's not even an event from his lifetime. Instead, David brings us back to Sinai (Ex.6:6-9). He brings us back to the moment when the Lord worked powerfully and victoriously and decisively to redeem His people out of Egyptian bondage. He brings us back to the moments when God demonstrated His covenant-keeping love.   

In the fight to command our souls to bless the Lord, we not only call to mind the things in general that are true about the Lord (Ps.103:3-5), we follow David’s example to get our arms around concrete, unassailable realities of His work in redemptive history. We lift our gaze above our own circumstances and fix it upon the Lord’s acts of provision and deliverance in the past. We tell ourselves what God has done — in history, for us.  

2. Hold fast to a specific truth about the Lord


David does something very instructive next. Having reminded himself of who God is and what God has done in redemptive history, he latches on to a particular text, specifically Psalm 103:8. 
The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
David is quoting Exodus 34:6. At the heart of David’s self-exhortation, he has a particular text in mind — one frequently recalled by Old Testament authors in the midst of sin (Joel 2:12), sorrow (Lam.3:21–23), and pain (Psalm 86:15).

David, Moses, Jonah, Jeremiah, Joel, Nehemiah, and Hezekiah — they all went here for help (Jonah 4:2; Neh.9:16; 2Chron.30:9). And David, directing his mind to this text, begins to think through all its implications — God’s anger does not last forever, sin has been cast as far as the east is from the west, God’s compassion will not fail because David is His (Ps.103:9–19). 

David is moved. A heart that was faltering is now soaring. A deeply wrought gratitude now swells up to expression. He cannot keep it in: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 103:20–22).

When you’re talking to yourself, are you reminding yourself of what God has done for you in Christ Jesus? Do you have specific texts with which you exhort your soul? When the days are darkest, don’t let your flesh take command. Summon your soul to bless the Lord.  Find specific texts by which you can fight the fight of faith — perhaps some short ones like these: Mt.28:20; Heb.13:5–6; Isa.41:10 and long ones: Romans 8:26–39; John 10:7–18; Psalm 103!

"May the word of Christ dwell in you richly. . ." (Colossians 3:16).

Friday, February 03, 2012

Pack Your Bag and Go!

Seeing this short video, "Move", reminded me how much I've loved traveling to different countries over the years! I might not be up to that final shot in the video any longer, but my how I've loved experiencing the people, the food, the culture, the art and the beauty of other lands! Yes, getting there and back may be a pain. Yes, you have to forfeit the familiar. But what you'll gain far exceeds any hassle you might meet along the way. So if you can afford to travel (or can get funded like these guys did!) .... GO!

MOVE from Rick Mereki on Vimeo.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

"This Grace In Which We Stand"

 Paul Zahl, in his book Grace in Practice: A Theology of Everyday Life, writes:
What is grace? Grace is love that seeks you out when you have nothing to give in return. Grace is love coming at you that has nothing to do with you. Grace is being loved when you are unlovable. The cliché definition of grace is “unconditional love.” It is a true cliché, for it is a good description of the thing…Let’s go a little further, though.

Grace is a love that has nothing to do with you, the beloved. It has everything and only to do with the lover. Grace is irrational in the sense that it has nothing to do with weights and measures. It has nothing to do with my intrinsic qualities or so-called “gifts” (whatever they may be). It reflects a decision on the part of the giver (the one who loves) in relation to the receiver (the one who is loved) that negates any qualifications the receiver may personally hold…Grace is one-way love.
"For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:6-8)