Tag Archives: Idols

He is God and We are Not

“And the LORD answered me: “Write the vision; make it plain on tablets, so he may run who reads it. For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay.

“Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

“Moreover, wine is a traitor, an arrogant man who is never at rest. His greed is as wide as Sheol; like death he has never enough. He gathers for himself all nations and collects as his own all peoples.”

Shall not all these take up their taunt against him, with scoffing and riddles for him, and say, “Woe to him who heaps up what is not his own— for how long?— and loads himself with pledges!” Will not your debtors suddenly arise, and those awake who will make you tremble? Then you will be spoil for them. Because you have plundered many nations, all the remnant of the peoples shall plunder you, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“Woe to him who gets evil gain for his house, to set his nest on high, to be safe from the reach of harm! You have devised shame for your house by cutting off many peoples; you have forfeited your life. For the stone will cry out from the wall, and the beam from the woodwork respond.

“Woe to him who builds a town with blood and founds a city on iniquity! Behold, is it not from the LORD of hosts that peoples labor merely for fire, and nations weary themselves for nothing? For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD as the waters cover the sea.

“Woe to him who makes his neighbors drink— you pour out your wrath and make them drunk, in order to gaze at their nakedness! You will have your fill of shame instead of glory. Drink, yourself, and show your uncircumcision! The cup in the LORD’s right hand will come around to you, and utter shame will come upon your glory! The violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you, as will the destruction of the beasts that terrified them, for the blood of man and violence to the earth, to cities and all who dwell in them.

“What profit is an idol when its maker has shaped it, a metal image, a teacher of lies? For its maker trusts in his own creation when he makes speechless idols! Woe to him who says to a wooden thing, Awake; to a silent stone, Arise! Can this teach? Behold, it is overlaid with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in it. But the LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth keep silence before him.””

(Habakkuk 2:2–20 ESV)

Habakkuk had been questioning God and wanting to know why He seemed to be absent, disconnected & slow in acting in judging the wicked.  God tells Habakkuk (and us) that He will indeed punish all of the wicked in the right time!  God will judge all injustice, but it rarely happens on our timetable.  If it seems slow, wait for it.  Good counsel.  All injustice and sin will be paid for – either at the cross of Christ or at the end of time.  Judah would be judged in 586, but Babylon’s judgement would be another 50 years – in 539.  We don’t normally think in 50 year chunks.  But ultimately, It’s not about them (or us), it’s about Him & His story.

God says that the Babylonians, and specifically their king, are prideful and puffed up; they are relying upon their own strengths, abilities and savvy (sound familiar?).  But the righteous shall live by faith (Genesis 15:6, Romans 1:17, Galatians 3:11, Ephesians 2:8, Hebrews 10:38-39) and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7).  Simple faith in the Almighty is all that is required to be deemed righteous by God and yet it seems to be the hardest thing for man to do – to admit that he can’t do it on his own, to admit that he is some how deficient in and of himself.  Trusting that God is in control and is redeeming all things for His glory is all that is required.  Even in the darkest nights of the soul, there is an abiding trust in God and in his promises.  He is at work, never distant, disconnected or unconcerned – regardless of how you feel.  Walk by trust in the gospel & in God’s promises and not by what feel or think.  Preach these great truths to yourself instead of running through your own feelings and thoughts continually in your mind.  You talk to yourself more than anyone else, what are you saying?  Are they good, noble, right, praiseworthy things or are they toxic, faith killers.

Habakkuk lands on the sweet sovereignty of God, which is the softest of all doctrines to the weary soul.  We know that God sovereignly controls man’s destiny, but we fail to walk in this truth daily.  “The heart of man plans his way, but the LORD establishes his steps.”  (Proverbs 16:9 ESV).  A day is coming when God’s glory will be shown perfectly because sin will no longer cast a shadow over it.  Things will not be broken, man will worship Him, lives will glorify Him.

God then points out to Habakkuk that idols are stupid. We craft them and then look to them for direction, meaning and worth. Idols can’t speak, relate, rule or reign. They are nothing but wood with precious metals on top of them. They are not alive or powerful. Our idols are more “sophisticated” today – marriages, children, wealth, fame, approval, relationships – many are good things, but they are created things that cannot direct our lives.  
But the Lord is in His holy temple and His presence commands silence.  What a comparison between powerless, silent inanimate objects and the power and presence of the Almighty.  In His presence there is a palpable sense of power, holiness and glory that renders created things speechless (Isaiah 6:4-5). We rant and rave and shake our fists at God, we accuse Him as if we are sovereign, but there is coming a time when our mouths will be shut and we will know that He is God and we are not! “Be silent before the Lord GOD! For the day of the LORD is near; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice and consecrated his guests” (Zephaniah 1:7 ESV).

What God reveals to Habakkuk about Himself is that He is God – just like in the book of Job – and seeing that renders a man speechless.  Far too often, we ignorantly careen through life relying on our senses and feelings for direction.  We feel like we have ultimate perspective and understanding – we are limited, finite and ignorant.  The most gracious thing that God can do is to crush us and reveal to us that we are not sovereign.  When we realize this and embrace the truth that He is in control – and that we are not – when we embrace that He is God – and we are not – our hearts worship.  Instead of staying crushed, we are lifted up and God’s power, holiness and justice meets His mercy, grace and glory – and we worship and experience joy.  Lord, please teach us that you are God and we are not.

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The Ultimate Sufferer will put our frustration & futility to an end

“Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (1 Peter 3:13–18 ESV)

Peter zooms out to give us a big picture vantage point on life.  He is not saying that we won’t suffer – his reader’s already were suffering.  But, ultimately all things will work for their good (Romans 8:28-31).  Peter reminds them of the Lord’s words:  ““Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:10 ESV).  Peter urges them to dwell on Ultimate realities, on the bigger picture.  When we suffer, we can either be driven to God and His bigger eternal work or inwardly and bemoan our own personal hardships.  Peter calls us to run to God and see that He is work in the arc of eternity.

Peter argues here to be able to give a winsome response to people when they ask about our hope.  Hope is interesting here because the real pivoting point is where is our hope really found?  Is our hope really in Jesus or some other idol?  If our hope is really in the Lord, then people will notice the poise and ballast in our lives when they are squeezed and pressed by hardship and suffering.  Only grace soaked people will be able to endure with hope – for they know this is not all that there is.  Hope is the expectation of good as the Christian is confident & joyful that he has an inheritance that is certain & secure.  Some of the time, Christians will suffer for doing good – even though the claims against them be baseless.

Peter links the power to suffer well to our identity in Christ – He suffered on our behalf so that one day we wouldn’t have to.  This is a major verse on the atonement – Christ, the Righteous, suffered for us, the unrighteous, so that we may be brought to God.  He died in the flesh so that we could be made alive in spirit.  So regardless of where you find yourself today and regardless of the suffering that you face – financial, relational, emotional, physical or familial – set your eyes firmly upon Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith.  He was the Ultimate Sufferer so that one day our suffering would end.  Remember your inheritance as a child of God; there is coming a day when He will make all things new.  Our lives will be truly lived as they were designed to – no more frustration and futility.  We will live in perfect paradise in the presence of our glorious Father.

Faithfulness’s Fuel

“Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one’s deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile, knowing that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.” (1 Peter 1:13–21 ESV)

This section starts with “therefore” which causes us to first reflect on Peter’s previous train of thought which was because God has saved you & is ensuring an inheritance that is spectacular – let us set our hope FULLY on the grace of Jesus Christ!  We are to do this by dwelling on, mulling over & meditating upon true & transcendent things – things which we easily forget.  We have to get outside of ourselves and our worlds and the difficulties that we face and think on ultimate realities.  Realities like this world is transient and is coming to an end, a perfect and never ending kingdom is coming in which we will dwell as sons of God.  God’s undeserved approval has been showered upon us, not because of what we have done or can do, but solely upon His sovereign goodness & grace.

Peter calls us not to be conformed to the “passions of our former ignorance.”  Passions are our inner drives and desires, deep down things, not merely behavioral things.  Peter’s exhortation to his readers is to be like Dad.  Our holiness & sanctification is tied to our identity as His children.  If you read this as a list of what you must do and how you must behave without marrying it to your identity in Jesus Christ then you have departed from the gospel of grace and have embraced a works based righteousness theological system.  The entire book of Galatians is a treatise on how they had departed from the gospel and embraced works based righteousness.  Paul deploys strong words in his epistle to the Galatians like bewitched (3:1), emasculate (5:12) and accursed (1:8) to communicate the danger of departing from grace and embracing works based righteousness.  Gospel oriented sanctification, or grace driven effort, is rooted in what God has done for us and our identity as His children.  It seeks to root out idols of the heart by identifying the false beliefs that drive our external behaviors.  It is root focuses, not fruit focused.  Works based righteousness places the responsibility for change primarily upon our shoulders – it is up to us to manage our sin.  It is primarily focused on our behavior and never asks the deeper question of what is driving our sinful behavior.  It is fruit focused, not root focused.

Our God is our Father and Judge.  We will be called to account for how we stewarded our lives in this world which should strike sobriety in our souls.  We should have a reverent fear and awe of God as we live our lives.  God is still a consuming fire Who is too glorious for man to see; He’s not our buddy, He’s the Almighty Creator who breathes galaxies into place.  Because of our identity as His children, we should walk in ways that are in keeping with our identity – this is not by focusing upon external behavior modification.  The external things that we do that are sinful should be ferociously attacked on the surface to hold them at bay, but the deeper question of what is driving them needs to be answered.  When their source is identified, God can remove the roots that are causing the sin.  We should walk in holy, reverent awe of God as our time as exiles in this world knowing that a perfect place in the presence of God is our future inheritance (a new Eden).

We are to walk in reverent awe (fear) because we were rescued at great cost – the cost was the blood of God Himself.  God died for our sins.  What sacrifice?  He tasted death, wrath & separation; the God who was never created and is perfectly holy was dipped in the disgust of sin, was separated from all goodness and bore His own wrath for me.  I was indeed bought with a price.  We were delivered from a life of meaningless futility where we are constantly chasing after the wind to one of profound significance; He breaks our bondage to generational sins and frees us.

The cross was the plan before time began.  It is not plan “B” because plan “A” did not work out.  Before anything was formed or put into motion, Jesus knew He would die to atone for the sins of His chosen people.  But, this complete revelation was not made known until recently (2000 years ago) for our sake.  Jesus was raised so our hope is firmly planted on the One that death could not hold.  What profound encouragement & glory.  Understanding and embracing that God has bought us with a profound price and that our inheritance is glorious provides fuel for us to walk faithfully.

Cooling affections

““If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, and the sign or wonder that he tells you comes to pass, and if he says, ‘Let us go after other gods,’ which you have not known, ‘and let us serve them,’ you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams. For the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul. You shall walk after the LORD your God and fear him and keep his commandments and obey his voice, and you shall serve him and hold fast to him. But that prophet or that dreamer of dreams shall be put to death, because he has taught rebellion against the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt and redeemed you out of the house of slavery, to make you leave the way in which the LORD your God commanded you to walk. So you shall purge the evil from your midst.” (Deuteronomy 13:1–5 ESV)

This section warns the Israelites not to listen to or follow prophets who do miracles and tells them to follow & serve other gods!  This seems easy and straight forward to us, but at this point in history the scriptures had not been fully given to the people so prophets played a major role in God revealing His will to His people.  The Israelites were called to follow God (who was familiar), to fear God, to obey God and to hold fast to God.  In the western world, there is little cost to count for this, but for the Israelites it would be their lives and their very existence.

God calls them to take radical steps to purge the evil in their midst, in this case a false prophet.  That false prophet shall be put to death!  Scripture always paints the removal of evil & the killing of sin (mortification) in violent ways.  It paints pictures and uses words like murder, annihilation, mutilation & amputation (Colossians 3:1-11, Matthew 5:29-30 & 26:41).  This was physical for the Israelites – a picture of what we should pursue in our walk with the Lord.

We tend to minimize our sins & idols as “not being that big of a deal.”  But, God’s standard is holiness and He is completely devoted to conforming His children into the image of His Son.  Far too often we are content to bring our sins & idols into our hearts (Ezekiel 14:3) where we dream about them, place our trust in them & rely upon them for our well being in life.  In short, we worship them.  Killing sin always starts in our hearts and is aimed at ripping out the things that we have come to rely upon for our identity, safety, well being (emotional, physical or spiritual) – the things that we have placed our hope for deliverance in.  When things get ripped out of our hearts, pain is involved because a part of us is dying.  Dying is painful.  But the person who is willing to endure the pain will find true life, abiding joy & deep satisfaction (Psalm 16:11, Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 9:24).

What tugs at your hearts affections?  Do you find your affection for the Lord cooling, while your affections for other things warming?  We must flee those things that create competing affections in our hearts.  This is done practically by removing ourselves from the situation & exposure, and by cultivating a deeper love for God.  The answer is to see God more clearly (sovereign, holy, merciful, good, gracious) so that the things that vie for our affections become less attractive because they pale in comparison.

Heart of the Matter Review

““This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”” (John 6:29 ESV)

What is the work that we need to be doing?  That is the same question that was asked of Jesus in John 6:29.  His answer?  Be disciplined, work hard, feed the poor, love the unloveable, memorize the scriptures?  No.  All of these are good things, but they are secondary things.  The work we need to be doing in our faith is belief:  “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”  The real battle for us is to remember and rely upon the seemingly unbelievable good news of the Gospel – that a good and all powerful God has made a way for rebellious creatures to return and be reconciled with Him.  We don’t forget this in our minds, but the glory of God & His gospel readily creeps out of our hearts.

Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation helps us to remember the staggering promises of the gospel by providing short, gospel saturated daily devotions that are aimed at penetrating the reader’s heart.  Paul Tripp, Ed Welch, Timothy S. Lane, William Smith, Michael Emlet, David Powlison and others share profoundly practical & impactful truths on subjects that include fear & anxiety, anger, contentment, faith, relationships, stress, suffering, identity and trials & suffering.  If you find yourself in the battle for belief, then Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives is an excellent resource to help you on your journey.  It is available from New Growth Press at their online store, Amazon or WTS Books.  You can sign up to win a free copy here.

Relational Idols

“And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming. If you know that he is righteous, you may be sure that everyone who practices righteousness has been born of him.
See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him. Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure.” (1 John 2:28–3:3 ESV)

“No human being was ever meant to be the source of personal joy and contentment for someone else. Your spouse, your friends, and your children cannot be the sources of your identity. When you seek to define who you are through those relationships, you are asking another sinner to be your personal messiah, to give you the inward rest of soul that only God can give. Only when I have sought my identity in the proper place (in my relationship with God) am I able to put you in the proper place as well. When I relate to you knowing that I am God’s child and the recipient of his grace, I am able to serve and love you.

However, if I am seeking to get identity from you, I will watch you too closely. I will become acutely aware of your weaknesses and failures. I will become overly critical, frustrated, and angry. I will be angry not because you are a sinner, but because you have failed to deliver the one thing I seek from you: identity.

When I remember that Christ has given me everything I need to be the person he has designed me to be, I am free to serve and love you. When I know who I am, I am free to be humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and loving as we navigate the inevitable messiness of relationships.”

Why doesn’t God just make your relationships better overnight? We often think that if God really cared for us, he would make our relationships easier. In reality, a difficult relationship is a mark of his love and care.

We would prefer that God would just change the relationship, but he won’t be content until the relationship changes us too. This is how God created relationships to function.
What happens in the messiness of relationships is that our hearts are revealed, our weaknesses are exposed, and we start coming to the end of ourselves. Only when this happens do we reach out for the help God alone can provide. Weak and needy people finding their hope in Christ’s grace are what mark a mature relationship.

The most dangerous aspect of your relationships is not your weakness, but your delusions of strength. Self-reliance is almost always a component of a bad relationship.
While we would like to avoid the mess and enjoy deep and intimate community, God says that it is in the very process of working through the mess that intimacy is found.

Timothy S. Lane and Paul David Tripp, February 14, p 45 & January 16, p 16.  From Heart of the Matter: Daily Reflections for Changing Hearts and Lives by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Copyright © 2012 by Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation. Used by permission of New Growth Press.

Abandoning Idolatry

“‘You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them; for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.” (Deuteronomy 5:8–10 ESV).

God’s revelation to His people was audible, and therefore they should not create a physical image of the Almighty.  He is not physical and nothing that we could craft would accurately represent His glory and majesty.  He is eternal, infinite and almighty – nothing created can capture this.  Carved images were common to represent other gods (especially in Egypt and Canaan).  God is not limited or created, He is eternal and outside of the created order and is not only in one place at one time.  God had dramatically demonstrated that He is so far above competing deities by the plagues in and deliverance from Egypt that the people would likely have recalled this.  See Deuteronomy 4:12, 15–19, 23.  Additionally, God is a jealous God, visiting iniquity to the 3rd and 4th generation.  This is not God punishing, rather this is feeling the effects of our ancestors sins.  But, God is so benevolent because He shows steadfast love to those who are His in heart and showers them with love, mercy and grace for thousands of generations!

How often do we look to created things instead of the Creator of all things?  How often does the weight of our worship (think worth-ship) fall upon these created things.  This seems to be one of the central battles of the human heart.  To what are you looking to provide you with value, significance, worth, safety, security, meaning or love?  What do you dream about happening that you think will make life work or that you can’t live without?  That is the idol that you worship.

Singular Devotion, First Affection

You shall have no other gods before me.” (Deuteronomy 5:7 ESV).

The New Living Translation says “no other god but me.”  God demands exclusive worship because He is incomparable and because there are no other true gods; our God is not part of the created order (i.e. sun, moon, etc), He reigns over creation with all power.  God created all things and sustains all things (John 1:3, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  He is not some distant deity, He is all powerful, just and holy and yet He still draws near to His creation.

Our primary problem is a worship problem – we worship all sorts of things to which we ascribe godlike grandeur, but there is only one true God.  When we place the weight of our worship on created things, they buckle because they are not designed to hold the weight that our worship places upon themSingular devotion to Him is how the created order was designed to operate.  This is not because He is insecure or needs anything from us (Acts 17:25), but because it glorifies Him and gives us maximum joy (Psalm 16:11).  What are you worshiping, what is your first affection?

The role of scripture is to reveal God to us

“Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us build the wall of Jerusalem, that we may no longer suffer derision.” And I told them of the hand of my God that had been upon me for good, and also of the words that the king had spoken to me. And they said, “Let us rise up and build.” So they strengthened their hands for the good work.” (Nehemiah 2:17–18 ESV)

Was it a surprise to anyone that they were in jeopardy because of the disrepair of the wall?  No.  A city’s wall was an integral part of its defense from outside invasion.  It provided safety, security and a place where people could live and prosper without fear.  So why hadn’t they rebuilt the wall before now?  Perhaps fear, perhaps a lack of leadership or resources, perhaps opposition.  But, why rebuild now?  Was it because Nehemiah was inspirational or especially gifted.  Maybe.  It seems more likely that it was because the “hand of my God had been upon me for good” (verse 18).  God had appointed the reconstruction for this time and Nehemiah to lead the effort and God’s hand was upon him in this effort.  Avoid the risk of running to scripture looking for self-help tips for being a better dad, husband, father, leader or worker.  You will find some help for these areas of your life in scripture, but that is not its intent.  We need to run to the scriptures to see God, plain and simple.  We need to ask God to incline our hearts toward Him and to obey Him (Psalm 119:36, 112).  Without a doubt we ought to be better men, husbands, fathers or leader’s, but that is not the end game.  The end game is an all satisfying pursuit of God that as our ultimate treasure in life.