Wednesday, October 28, 2015

How to Defeat Idolatry

 Excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

In the first post on idolatry, we have considered what idolatry looks like in the life of the Christian. In the second post, we have reviewed some diagnostic steps that will help us to identify idolatry in our hearts. Now, how do we defeat it?

·         Repent when you recognize these idols, call sin SIN and leave it behind as the terrible evil that it really is. If God is convicting you, don’t turn your back on him. Turn away from idols.
·         Pray. Ask God to reveal Himself as more glorious, more desirable than anything else. Pursue the excellence of Christ in prayer, wrestle with God for joy and satisfaction in Him.
·         Read the Bible. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind – study the Word of God, meditate on it, grow in knowledge and application of the Bible. Taste and see that the Lord is good.
·         Give Thanks to God for everything: Memorize this question from 1 Corinthians 4:7, “What do you have that you did not receive?”   Apply this as an antidote to pride, as a guard to your heart, as a reminder to give God thanks and glorify Him.
·         Be a Disciple. Be engaged with your church. Don’t just show up to services, although that’s a good start. Hear the Word preached together, sing, pray, confess and give thanks together. Be in community with other church members during the week – community group, hospitality, prayer meetings, go for coffee, serve one another, study the Bible together. Use your community of believers to help you recognize hidden idols, root them out and smash them!

As you apply these things to your own life, remember to pray for Christian leaders.  Think about the fall of some Christian celebrities in recent times. Dreadful news of spiritual disaster can come from surprising places.

 “We are never doing so well that we are beyond the need of grace. We are never doing so badly that we are beyond the reach of God’s grace.” Jerry Bridges

Do you want a really hopeful word in the conclusion? I said in the introduction to my sermon on King Solomon’s idolatry, “As it goes with the king, so it goes with the people.”

We don’t follow in the Legacy of King Solomon.  Our king is Jesus. Are you feeling better yet?

King Jesus is not only mighty to save, He really is FOR us. He invites us to come to Him and receive full forgiveness because He died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. He invites us to come to Him FOREVER because He rose from the dead, defeating the power of sin and death. He has, as the Only Righteous King and Saviour, fulfilled all the conditions of the law that stood against us. We can REST in Him, forgiven, justified and counted righteous in Him by FAITH ALONE. 

Avoiding idolatry is easy in the sense that we simply keep looking to him, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2). Think about Matthew 11:25-30. Take comfort in the Saviour’s invitation to rest. We can’t keep ourselves from idols, but Jesus will help us. Jesus can be our joy and our delight. Desiring and enjoying God will be the only power that will overwhelm the futility of idolatry. Christ will keep us from idols by the power of the Holy Spirit. This is GRACE. Walk in it.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

How Do We Diagnose Idolatry?

Part II of an excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

Idolatry begins in our hearts. Our hearts are tricky to diagnose – we are often our own worst judges of what our hearts desire. But here are some warning signs:

·         Obsessive thoughts. What do we think about and worry about more than anything else?  When our heads hit the pillow at night, what are the thoughts that keep us awake? Could these thoughts point to desires and ambitions that are crowding out God in your heart?

·         “If onlys...” can be key threads to pull on. Do you keep coming back to that One Thing that you wish could change – a better job, a nicer house, recognition by your spouse or employer, obedient children, retirement, an ideal marriage?

Regarding our “if only?” idols. Try replacing “if only” with “I covet.”  For instance, I covet a better income. I covet obedient kids. I covet a loving, supportive spouse. I covet a better house for my family. That puts a different construction on some of our desires, doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong – not every dream or desire is idolatry. As a matter of fact, we are encouraged to enjoy God’s good gifts, to work hard, to find satisfaction in the goodness of God’s good creation – but not ultimate satisfaction. We must keep created things in their place under our Creator God.

To love God with all our heart is to recognize that our many other legitimate loves are all gifts from the hand of our Good God. Of course it is good to love family, leisure time, good food, the beauty of nature, friendship and many more things, but how do these things measure up compared with God in our hearts? Do we thank God while we are enjoying these things? Does our participation in these other things that we desire and enjoy bring glory to God?

·         Pride. We can recognize this when we begin to be irritated that other people do not recognize our contributions, or even our potential contributions. We feel slighted. We are bothered because things we understand to be our entitlements are not being satisfied. The most common idol that I must fight is the idol that is ME.

Another note of caution here: Idolatry doesn’t always come to us in the clothing of worldly desire. Some of the worst forms of idolatry are legalism in its various forms.

You might see two professing Christians, one who seems to be happy-go-lucky and tuned into enjoying life and the other is spiritually earnest and highly disciplined – apparently consumed with pursuing obedience and holiness. Don’t assume that the easy-going person is in greater danger of falling into idolatry.

READ 1 Timothy 4:1-5 – And remember the Pharisees!

·         Anger and Conflict in our relationships – James 4:1-2. If there is conflict in your relationships, chances are you are fighting an idol of unfulfilled desire. We should see conflict as red warning light glowing on our dashboard. Check your desires, root out your  unfulfilled cravings.

·         Bitterness – an Unforgiving Spirit. Hebrews 12:15, “See that no ‘root of bitterness’ springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled.” Bitterness doesn’t stay contained in our heart. It will spill over.  It will defile many, just like all idols do. When we, as redeemed sinners, stand at the foot of the cross, what right do we have to be angry?

·         Complaining. When we complain, we are accusing God of failing to govern his universe up to our standards. Understand that we can be legitimately sad, confused and disappointed and not be guilty of idolatry, but we need to keep a watch on our attitude. We run the danger of accusing God of wrongdoing when we complain.

·         Persistent, Remaining Sin. Don’t be content to call it “my struggle with sanctification.” You need to call it idolatry, recognize what it will cost you and turn away from it. If your particular sin is the “lust of the eyes,” then stop it. Do what it takes to see how destructive this idol is. Get help. Confess this sin and KILL IT. Pornography and sexual idols are a terrible problem in the church. Remember, this is where Solomon first went wrong. Don’t call him a fool if you still succumb to sexual temptation.

·         Loss. We may not be aware that something is an idol until it is taken away from us. How do we respond to God when really bad things happen? We may face a difficult diagnosis at the Dr.’s office. We might lose our job. What if lose a loved one? These are harsh tests for idolatry, but they happen under God’s sovereign providence. Losses  can be a gift from God in terms of diagnosing idols of our heart. Meditate upon the question, “What can truly devastate us when we are hidden with God in Christ?” Letting go of the important things and even people is a great test of our identity IN CHRIST. The Apostle Paul knew what it was to suffer loss. In 2 Corinthians 1:9, he wrote , “...we felt that we had received the sentence of death. But that was to make us rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead.”

That’s a distressing list. Is there any of us who isn’t challenged by these things?

What are we doing when we fall into idolatry?

Consider this word from the Lord in Jeremiah 2:11-13:

Has a nation changed its gods, even though they are no gods? But my people have changed their glory for that which does not profit. 12 Be appalled, O heavens, at this; be shocked, be utterly desolate, declares the LORD, 13 for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

What is Idolatry?

An Excerpt from “The Folly of King Solomon” Sermon on 1 Kings 11, October 11, 2015

Idolatry is a really big deal in the Bible. It comes up over and over again as the most basic of sins, both for Old Testament Israel and New Testament Christians. Both the presence and damage of idolatry is obvious in much of the Old Testament, but its presence in the New Testament is not as obvious. However, idolatry is no less a foundational sin in the New Testament.

We might be tempted to think that idolatry is for ancients, or pagans – not something that we have to be concerned about. But remember how the Apostle John concluded his first letter:  “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.” (1 John 5:21). John hadn’t mentioned idols in the rest of the book, but these are the words he chose to conclude the book. Why did John warn Christians about idols?

Earlier in 1 John, the Apostle warned against idolatry using different words:

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1 John 2:15-16

Idolatry is often behind the words “love,” desire” and “passion” in the New Testament. The Apostle Paul called greed, or covetousness, idolatry  (Ephesians 5:5, Colossians 3:5). Paul also warned us against various forms of idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10, pointing to the experiences of the Children of Israel in the Wilderness as a warning.

Simply put, an idol is anything that exists in creation – physical or imagined – that we put in the place of God or above God. It might be money, another person, our work, our perfectly imagined future or any number of things.

Idolatry is always a reflection of unbelief. If we believed God, if we knew God, we wouldn’t turn from him to pathetic substitutes. If we walked by faith, we wouldn’t turn to alternative gods that will always fail us.  Consider the warning in Hebrews 3:12: “Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. “

Practicing idolatry is letting our hearts be more attached to any created thing rather than the Creator. The failure to glorify God and give him thanks (Romans 1:21) is the fruit of this fundamental sin. 

Idolatry begins with our hearts. It is not so much about the object of our affection, but that this object of our affection is a competitor or a replacement for God in our lives.

Evil things can be idols – like the altar to Chemosh or Molech, or pornography or drug addiction.

However, a subtle danger of idolatry is that it may also be something that is good in and of itself. How can a good thing become an idol? If it becomes an “instead of” God – a substitute saviour. When we get things out of proportion to God,  then that created thing will become an idol.

Good, religious people can be just as guilty of idolatry as Solomon was. It might be invisible to others – at least for a time – but idolatry is a destructive, foolish sin. 

Friday, July 10, 2015

Come, Lord Jesus

Right at the end of the Bible, in Revelation 22:20, we read, “He who testifies to these things (the Lord Jesus Christ Himself) says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.’ (To which John adds) Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

Many professing Christians, let alone the general population, consider the bodily, glorious return of the Risen Christ to be impossible. If this truth is not rejected outright, its neglect in so many churches points to an uneasiness concerning this doctrine.

Perhaps this is because many North American believers engaged in crazy speculation about the future, particularly at the end of the 20th Century. When people looked away from the hype (understandably), they also turned away from the clear teaching of the Bible regarding the return of Christ.

There is a deeper reason for the neglect of eschatology (the study of last things) in the church. Unbelief. Specifically unbelief concerning the "weird stuff" in the Bible.

For instance, I was reading Joshua 10 the other day about “The Long Day of Joshua.” The sun and moon stood still so that Joshua’s army could keep on fighting for an extra day. Accounts like this, or Noah’s Ark or Jonah’s Great Fish or other Bible stories are just that – stories. Or are they? How can we moderns believe such things? How can we believe that the bodily resurrected Christ went up into Heaven (wherever that is) 2000 years ago and will return from there?

Critical theologians have redefined the resurrection over the past 200 years. They teach that resurrection was a spiritual concept, invented by the disciples to keep Jesus’ ideas alive at the dawning of Christianity.

That just won’t do. If we lose the bodily resurrection, we lose everything (1 Corinthians 15). I would also argue that if we lose the long day of Joshua or Jonah’s fish, we lose everything. If the Bible is God’s Word, it either is entirely or not at all (2 Timothy 3:16). If I lose Noah’s ark, I lose the gospel. The same is true regarding the future return of Christ.

When I have thoughts of, “That’s weird!” when I read the Bible, I fight unbelief with the truth of creation. If God made everything out of nothing by the power of his Word, what is too difficult for him? Consider Hebrews 11:3 By faith we understand that the universe was created by the word of God, so that what is seen was not made out of things that are visible.” Right at the beginning of the Faith Chapter, we have this foundation of creation.

One of the errors that modern skeptics make is to engage in what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery. “We modern people can’t believe in such things.” The fact is, the ancients didn’t believe these things either, unless God changed their hearts. Conversely, many people do believe today because God has changed our hearts.

If you are a professing Christian, don’t shy away from talking about the return of Christ. This is our great hope. People will think that we are crazy, but what’s new about that? Jesus promised that as they hated him, they will hate us.

If you are reading this and you are not a Christian, let me thank you for persevering this far through this post! I’m glad you are reading this. What I’m writing might be crazy talk to you, but consider your foundations. If you are a naturalist (no belief in the supernatural), how do you account for anything? Take a good, long look at your presuppositions and your assumptions about the world. Ask God to help you understand what is true, good and beautiful and eternal.

As for us Christians, if we contemplate what the Bible teaches about Christ’s return, we will be motivated to live godly lives (read 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 John 2:29-3:3). The world will hate us for this, too, by the way.

We are called to be ambassadors of God. We bring the Good News that God’s judgment of sin has broken into space/time history at the cross. All who trust in the forgiveness and righteousness of Christ secured for us by his obedient life, atoning death and bodily resurrection are safe from the terror of Christ’s return. We may welcome it and long for it. The question is, how much do we believe in this future reality? Does God’s love compel us to warn those who do not yet know this truth?

“Don’t judge” is the word of our day, but have you considered how genuinely loving it is to warn people of God’s coming judgment? Sure, we are not to be “judgmental,” but we are to be witnesses to the truth of God’s coming reckoning with those who disregard him and his Word. No matter when Christ returns, it will be “soon” in the calendar of Heaven. Consider also that the sure, righteous judgment of God will become immediate and personal at the time of our death, and who knows when that may be?

And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.  Hebrews 9:27-28

As you “... grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18), don’t neglect what the Bible says about Christ’s return. It is a great, sure hope and a powerful motivator for faithful witness in a world that desperately needs the gospel.

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

A New Opportunity

It is Tuesday evening on my first full week on the job at Calvary Grace Church - full-time. I am very thankful for this opportunity. It is a new thing, even though I was a full time pastor from 1990 to 2011 (with two years out for school). I have been an elder at Calvary Grace since January, 2012, so I haven't stopped being a pastor. However, I have a new respect for long-term bi-vocational pastors.

I am one of five elders at Calvary Grace. Pastor Clint Humfrey is the lead pastor and he does most of the preaching, though we all take our turns. That means that I am full-time and not preaching most weeks. That is different. I am the pastoral care pastor, though we are all simply pastors -- we all do each others' job. We each have our area of specialization, either according to gifting or simply the need of the hour.

Our church isn't perfect, what church is? However, I consider this season to be a golden time, a very special blessing. It is a great privilege to work with the other elders here and serve with the other members. We are growing together and the church is maturing and deepening and learning to reach out more and more.

I am looking forward to being more available to the people in our church . I also will have more time for reading and writing -- maybe even on this blog.

I am thankful for my three and a half years at TransCanada Turbines. I won't miss the work, but I will miss the people I worked with. I will keep in touch with some of them. I hope that full-time job gig for that season has made me  a better pastor. God knows. I  know that I am very thankful for the opportunity to go full-time and, to be honest, to sleep-in just a bit later every weekday.