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Monday, March 26, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 7-8

Ask someone to tell you what God is like and chances are they'll tell you about their personal conception of God. There's only one way we can accurately know the character of God, however, and it's not achieved by creating our own ideas and impressions about Him. It is to conceive of Him as He has revealed Himself to actually be in Scripture. In fact, God warns against ever imagining that He is like us. Through Asaph the Psalmist, God rebuked His people for creating a false image of Him, writing, "You thought that I was just like you; I will reprove you and state the case in order before your eyes." (Ps.50:21). When we create a false picture of God in our mind (our thoughts, beliefs, judgments & imaginations), we have created an idol, a false god, a god of our own imagination. It's only "by immersing ourselves in Spirit-enlightened study of God through Scripture" that we can avoid the error of creating "the comfort of a loving god without the demands of a holy god." Rather than wanting God to be like us, we need to apply our thinking, reasoning & discernment to our becoming more like Him, holy and set apart for His use. 
Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment..." [Romans 12:1-3]
It is through the renewing of our mind, the putting off of wrong conceptions and the putting on of Scriptural truth, that we are able to obtain an accurate view of who God really is and who we really are. It is in this way that we can avoid "the sin of worshiping a god of our imagination ... a god who thinks just like us, whom we can command and manipulate for our pleasure. ... We need concentrated doses of truth on a daily basis about the God who really is."

The danger of creating false gods in our minds is that they breed disobedience. "We sin because we believe that there's some happiness to be gained by it. It's then that our thoughts about happiness become our god." Rather than using our minds to discern God's truth and guard ourselves from idolatry, when we think wrong thoughts about God and wrong thoughts about ourselves we can actually come to believe the lie, rather than God! Fitzpatrick offers several questions we can use to test ourselves so that we may discover exactly what/who it is that we are trusting in God's place.
  • What do I believe about the source of true happiness in this circumstance? 
  • What do I believe about God in this circumstance?
  • What do I believe about myself - my rights, my goals, my desires? [Anytime we start thinking about our "rights" an alarm should go off in our minds!]
  • What am I trusting in?
Believers are to be continuously "destroying/demolishing/casting down speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and ... (be) taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ," (2Cor.10:5) 

Fitzpatrick points out in Chapter 8: "Longing for God," that God created man "with the capacity to experience great happiness in obedience to Him." But because of sin, man's nature has been "warped out of shape." 
Our hearts, the fount from which all our sin flows (Mt.12:34), have ceased to be God-centered and have become self-centered. Rather than living life to reflect God for His glory, man lives for his own glory, seeking happiness in his own reflection. Rather than living in humble submission to God's word, trusting that His way is best, we rely on our own understanding. (Prov.3:5) ... Now, rather than worshiping his Creator and finding happiness in God, he'll create a god in his own image; rather than reflecting oneness with others for God's glory, he'll pursue relationships primarily for his glory and pleasure; rather than working so that God's works would be known and glorified by others, he chases after and loves money, respect, and prestige.
Our only hope for restoring our relationship with God is "to be reborn in the image of Jesus Christ - the only Man who ever fulfilled His role in creation." It's only through accepting God's gracious provision through His Son that God's wrath can be averted, His justice be fulfilled and reconciliation can take place. Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me." (John 14:6) When we believe Him and come to Him in faith, we are no longer in bondage to our sin nature. That's not to say that we're sinless. It means we have a God-given ability to see and understand God's truth instead of the lie and through the work of the Holy Spirit, we have the God-given empowerment to obey Him, thus bringing Him glory and giving us increasing joy in Him.
The wonderful truth is that all our longings are met in Christ. He's come to give us abundant life, but He doesn't do so by satisfying sinful desires. He satisfies us by turning our hearts away from them toward Him. He shows us the emptiness in our cravings and the great joy of oneness with Him and with His children. He's the source and satisfaction of all our happiness. All we need is found in Him.

Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick
[Review: Intro, Chapters 1-2; Chapters 3-4; Chapters 5-6]

Monday, March 12, 2012

'Idols of the Heart' - Chapters 5-6

When we read about Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-nego's refusal to bow down before the idol in Babylon and of their bold response to King Nebuchadnezzar's threats (Dan.3:17-18), we might imagine ourselves in their place. We can see taking a brave stand for God against the highest power in a pagan land. We can picture ourselves being willing to suffer the consequences through the power of the Holy Spirit. It's so very black and white, isn't it? Yet when we're challenged to choose God today, when God asks us to repudiate our personal idols and love Him with all of our heart, mind and will at this particular moment, it can seem a lot harder to accomplish. A bold stand in a crisis situation can often be much easier than choosing God above all else on a day-to-day, moment-by-moment basis. We may have the confidence of Shadrack and his friends "that death in faith was indeed better than an idolatrous life" and yet be unwilling to live out a life reflecting that truth in the numerous "small" choices of mundane living. Can we honestly declare with David that God's "lovingkindness is better than life"? (Ps.63:3)

Our outer actions reflect our inner attitude, our "heart" as the Bible calls it. Our "heart" is the root out of which our myriad choices to either value Christ or something/someone else grow. "We always choose what we believe to be our best good. We always choose what we believe will bring us the most delight." Puritan Richard Baxter rightly warns, "The will never desires evil as evil but as ...seeming good." Too often we choose to believe the lie that something or someone other than God can make us happy, rather than believing God. We're no different than Eve. We're easily deceived.
We create images out of our thoughts of our highest good or happiness. And whether we're aware of it or not, those images are the driving forces in our lives. They direct our worship, either toward or away from God. They tell us what we should cherish more than Him.
God can teach you that He is your highest good. He can show you that all your happiness is in Him. He delights in bringing His people face to face with the happiness that is His alone. ...the Holy Spirit can illumine your heart and cause you to grow in your esteem of Christ and disdain for the charms of the world.
Chapter 6, Knowing the Heart, looks more closely at our inner man, what the Bible frequently refers to as the heart, by looking at what Scripture reveals about its three main facets - the mind, the affections and the will.

 The Mind: your ability to think, understand, doubt, reason, discern & remember
  • For even though they knew God ... they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. (Rom.1:21)
  • But some of the scribes were sitting there & reasoning in their hearts. (Mark 2:6)
  • And He said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?'" (Lk.24:38)
  • But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. (1 Tim.1:5)

The Affections: our longings, desires, feelings, imaginations & emotions
  • Do not be eager in your heart to be angry. (Ecclesiastes 7:9)
  • ...serve the LORD your God with joy and a glad heart. (Deut.28:47)
  • Say to those with anxious heart, "Take courage, fear not." (Isa.35:4)
  • But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your heart... (James 3:14)
  • ...the imaginations of their heart run riot. (Ps.73:7)
  • For consider Him ... so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Heb.12:3)

The Will:  informed by the Mind & the Affections, it chooses a course of action
  • ...choose for yourselves today whom you will serve. (Joshua 24:15)
  • ...knows enough to refuse evil and choose good. (Isaiah 7:15)
  • He shall live the place which he shall choose ...where it pleases him." (Deut.23:15-16)
  • Who is the man who fears the LORD? He will instruct him in the way he should choose. (Ps. 25:12)
Everywhere we turn  in our culture we are urged to just "trust your heart". The individual human heart is viewed as the most reliable source of truth for all personal decision making. Scripture has exactly the opposite advice. Indeed, in stark contrast God declares through the prophet Jeremiah that, "The heart is deceitful above all things, And desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jer.17:9)  Man has the ability to convince himself of anything. We can convince ourselves that black is white, that day is night ... that evil is good. Once convinced, the belief we've invested our emotions into will manifest itself in our actions. Therefore, the heart (our mind, affection & will) needs to be the focus of our attention. That is the site of our spiritual battle! Instead of trusting our own hearts, we need to trust, to believe God. Scripture reveals, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." (Prov.9:10)
Your mind should inform your affections of the source of your highest happiness; your affections imagine it, cause you to long for it, and apply the impetus needed to awaken your will to choose. No one sits around thinking about whether it's his affections, mind or will that caused him to choose vanilla over chocolate ice cream. We just do it.
God has made provision of the very tools a believer needs to properly discern and focus his heart upon Him - His revealed Word (to be heard preached & taught and to be personally read, studied, meditated upon, obeyed) and the power of the Holy Spirit, who incorporates God's truth deeply into his life. To the extent that we avail ourselves of these loving, God-given provisions, we become increasingly able to discern that our highest good, our greatest joy is found in God alone (knowing Him, trusting Him, obeying Him, serving Him).
Only the Holy Spirit, as He works in union with his Word, can reveal our thoughts and intentions. As we read, meditate on, study, and hear preaching of the Word we're able to get a glimpse of our inner self. ...God has given you the Word so that you can grow in your knowledge of yourself and develop true worship of Him.
Idols of the Heart, Elyse Fitzpatrick
[Review: Intro, Chapters 1-2; Chapters 3-4]