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Saturday, August 10, 2013

The Illusion of "Safety"

Driving by our local school I happened to glance at the reader board out front. "Have a safe relaxing summer!"

"Safe" ... I couldn't help thinking about my almost 7 year old grandson's preschool classmate, a recent drowning victim at a summer camp. I've lived enough years to know, as careful as we might try to be, this fallen world is not a safe place. You become momentarily distracted while driving ...and drift into the path of an oncoming vehicle. You pass your annual physical with flying colors ...and have a massive coronary two weeks later. You roll out of bed,  head to your early morning college class ...and are shot to death by a deranged student. You carefully eat all natural foods, exercise regularly, wear all natural fibers ...and die of cancer. You kiss Mommy & Daddy good-bye, excitedly head for summer camp ...and never return home.

The world tends to deal with such things by creating more laws, by seeking to assign blame, by asking how such things can happen, and often by declaring, "It just doesn't make sense!" Followers of Jesus Christ should not respond in the same manner. Having read & studied God's revelation to man, we know the world as it now stands is not a safe place and it won't be until our Lord returns. We should not expect perfect safety, no matter how cautious we are. So how do WE respond to "senseless" tragedy? How do WE react when someone in our local assembly is affected by death?

First, we grieve ...but not as those without hope. We grieve for the family's loss. We grieve for our own loss. We cry together, we hug, we pray together, we talk and remember and laugh about our memories of the one lost to us. Even Jesus, knowing He was about to resurrect Lazarus, wept with Mary and Martha in their grief. Don't think it's "unChristian" to grieve. The Bible doesn't call for us to be Greek Stoics! "Rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep." (Romans 12:15) When the loved one was a follower of Jesus Christ, we are not without hope in our grief. "But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope." (1 Thess. 4:13)

The parents of my grandson's classmate are trusting in Jesus Christ, His righteous life & His substitutionary death on the cross for their sins. They are surrounded by an assembly of believers and sit under a godly pastor ...all of whom are able to bring God's truth to bear upon their grief and loss. What a blessing in times of tragedy!

Finally, pray for the families. Lift them up before the throne of grace. Don't limit your prayers to asking God to "comfort them". Get specific. Pray from the ashes of this tragedy they might KNOW God more fully, that they would trust Him in their grief, that they would find their ultimate joy in Him, that Jesus Christ would increasingly be the focus of their lives, that they would live for Him and glorify Him! Be eternally-minded in your prayers.

Don't expect ultimate safety is possible in this fallen world. Look forward to your eternal home and spend the rest of your time here in the light of God's eternal truths.

"For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ's at His coming, then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death."  [1 Cor. 15:22-26]

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Proclamation!

"What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life -- and the life was manifested, and we have seen and testify and proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and was manifested to us -- what we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ. These things we write, so that our joy may be made complete." [1 John 1:1-4]

Commenting on this passage, Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote the following.

The gospel is a declaration, a manifestation, a showing. ... The trouble with so many of us (is that) we persist in regarding it as an outlook, as something which results from the meditation and thought of man on the whole problem of life and living. That has been the real tragedy of the last century or so, when philosophy took the place of revelation and people said that the Bible is nothing after all but human thoughts, man's ideas, man's search after God.

But that is not the gospel! The whole position of the Apostles, John and the rest, is that they have something to declare, something to say. They have seen something, they are reporting it, and that something is so wonderful that John can scarcely contain himself. ...There is nothing uncertain about this message, it is a proclamation; there is an urge and an authority behind it.

I know that the old charge which has so often been brought up against the Church and her preachers is that we are dogmatic; but the preacher who is not dogmatic is not a preacher in the New Testament sense. We should be modest about our own opinions and careful as to how we voice our own speculations, but here, thank God, we are not in such a realm, we are not concerned about such things. What we do is not to put forward a theory which commends itself to us as a possible explanation of the world and what we can do about it; the whole basis of the New Testament is that here is an announcement, a proclamation - those are New Testament words.

The gospel, according to the New Testament, is a herald; it is like a man with a trumpet who is calling people to listen. There is nothing tentative about what he has to say; something has been delivered unto him, and his business is to repeat it. ...We are ambassadors, and the business of the ambassador is not to say to the foreign country what he thinks or believes; it is to deliver the message which has been delivered to him by his home government and the King he represents. That is the position of these New Testament preachers, and that is how John puts it here - 'I have an amazing thing to reveal,' he says.

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]

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).