Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Getting Rid of Idols

I preached on Sunday morning on worship and idolatry. To summarize, worship is the sum and total of what you and I are doing every day of our lives. Worship, as I put it on Sunday, is "giving our utmost devotion to something, it is setting our affection on something in such a way that it changes the way we live." This is not a perfect definition, but I think it's a good working definition from what we see in the Bible. The object of worship is anything that we revere most in our lives, that which we believe we "cannot live without" - if we lost it, whatever it is, we are ruined, failures, destitute. Idolatry is worshiping anything other than the one, true God. We are all idolaters, enslaved in various ways to something other than God. Anything can become an idol in someone's life, and usually they are good things that become ultimate things, which is where the problem lies. What I want to answer is the question "How do I get rid of idols"? How can idols be defeated in my life? And remember, the object is not that which is powerful necessarily; it is the spiritual forces of darkness behind the idol, motivating and deceiving us, that is powerful.

So, how do idols get destroyed in someone's life? One option, and a wrong one, is to recognize something as an idol and then try real hard to stop making it an idol. If you realize your pursuit of money has become an idol, to try real hard and stop worrying about money so much is not the right avenue to take. Or if you realize you idolize your children, or at least their happiness and success above all else, you don't need to try and ignore them and stop caring as much for them.

The only way to truly defeat an idol in your life is to turn to the One who has defeated every idol - who went to the cross for you and dominated, for all eternity, the "rulers and authorities" of this world. Colossians 2:15 speaks of this: "He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by trimphing over them in him." God the Father destroyed the idols of our heart, the rulers and authorities who deceive us, through Christ on the cross. Not only this, he also put them to open shame, showing that they are no gods at all - they cannot provide true life, they cannot save you like God can, they are not worthy of our utmost devotion and obedience like God is worthy. This is the factual way God defeated idols, it is the objective way.

There is also a subjective way God has defeated idols, or you might say a "personal" way in your life that God defeats idols. This is where the rubber meats the road, this is where heart transformation is. I ranted briefly at the end of my sermon about Christ's victory through the cross and how we are freed from their power through him, and yet if this fact only enters your brain and isn't believed in the heart it will not do any good. One of the most important things to remember is what I said at the end, that this isn't about loving anything less necessarily (don't love your kids or your spouse less... but you'll need to ditch the unhealthy dating relationship and you'll definitely need to stop the porn watching). This is about loving Christ more, about "seeing and savoring Jesus Christ", as John Piper describes it in his book by that title. Idols fade from our hearts, their grasp on us is weakened and removed, when we see God as all-satisfying, worthy of our devotion, obedience, sacrifice, and love. When God is the center, is the One we seek to honor, and when His truth becomes THE truth in our lives, idols will be removed.

Do we ever stop running after idols completely? Maybe not completely, but certainly we can to the point of returning quickly when we realize we've strayed from the only God that truly exists. The Gospel is good news... great news actually... precisely because you and I are slaves to sin, mastered by all kinds of lusts and desires, transgressors and offenders of the Most High, and yet are given grace and mercy freely from the Judge of all mankind, through his Son's sacrifice for us. He becomes our Father, King, Lord, Savior, Friend, and lives in us by his Spirit. This isn't theory, friends. This is real life, real freedom, and really worth pursuing at the cost of anything and everything.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Friday, August 21, 2009

Fulfill your ministry

I've been reading through the New Testament in succession for some time now, and recently finished 2 Timothy. I love the practical insights and strong charges Paul lays out for his younger mentor Timothy. One phrase caught my eye when I was reading a little while back. In 2 Timothy 4:5 Paul tells Timothy, "As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

While much could be said about each of these phrases, the last one caught my eye.

It's easy for me to feel that I need to do so much more than I may really be called to do. The point of me working in a church right now, which I see as being obedient to God's call on my life, is not to do all the work in that church. The point is for me to do MY ministry and call others to step up and fulfill theirs. To be sure, ministry is not confined to walls of a church building or limited to just the people who do "full-time ministry". We are each given ministry by God to do. Sure Timothy was a pastor who needs to fulfill the ministry God's given him in his local context, but I think it's no stretch to see this as being for all Christians. Each of us is gifted differently, with different passions and burdens placed on us by God for the sake of doing ministry wherever we are at.

Simply put, what is your ministry right now? What has God called you to
do and who has he called you to be? If you can answer those questions with confidence, I think you'll know what your ministry is. Whatever it may be - parenting, coaching, teaching, encouraging, the possibilities are endless - do your part well. Do it with your whole heart, leaning wholly on God for wisdom, strength, and perseverance. And then go to bed each night, thanking God for one more day of ministry and resting up for another.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Thursday, August 20, 2009

Worship, part 2

I finished worship, part 1 questioning whether or not it is even possible to keep God in his rightful place and keep other things from becoming idols in our lives. As you may have guessed already, the answer is YES, we can do this. However, the method that often times is prescribed seems a bit wanting in my opinion. Often times churches give practical, religious ways to stop habits, stop worrying, and focus more on God. The prescription usually includes prayer, consistent Bible reading, and asking God to help us get over whatever we're worried about or hooked on. I'm certainly not advocating the abandonment of prayer or Bible study, but I think there is something more fundamental than these things that often isn't mentioned. The thing left out is this: the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The answer to our idolatry problem (worshiping something else besides God) is not to work harder at Christian practices and white-knuckle our way through it. The answer is to learn, in deeper and deeper ways who Jesus is and how he is the greatest news in the world.

Part of being a worshiper, of being created to worship, is that we are setting our deepest affections on the object of our worship and we are willing to sacrifice many things for it. Another important part of worship (or idolatry) is that we become enslaved to whatever it is we worship. If it's your family, you will be a slave to all your family demands of you, usually feeling that you've never done enough to measure up.

Tim Keller tells a story of two women, each with terrible husbands who didn't father well, and each with one son. He counseled each of them at nearly the same time with the same advice: each needed to forgive their husband, work on loving him, and leave the rest up to God to work on their heart. The woman who seemed less mature in her faith successfully forgave her husband, improving the marriage and slowly seeing improvements of her husband's fathering. The other woman, who seemed more mature, did not forgive her husband. The son became suffocated under the mother's love, the marriage went south (I can't remember if they divorced or not), and the mother was bitter for many years.

Keller reflected years later on the events of these two women and realized one crucial difference between them: the woman who forgave her husband trusted God in such a way that her son was not an idol, yet the other one, the one that he thought would fare better, made an idol out of her son's love and wouldn't forgive her husband. The issue was not just bitterness or parenting, but idolatry on the part of the mother. When a relationships becomes an idol, we become a slave to it in such a way that we MUST have "it" - approval, success, praise/affection, power, control, etc. Every other idol becomes a master as well, though it may manifest itself in different ways.

So, how do we a.) discern idols, and b.) destroy idols? We went through how to discern them briefly in the last post, so I want to focus on destroying them. The deepest answer is that we need our hearts to see and take its greatest joy in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we recognize Christ as our master (for that is what he is), we will come to see that he is the only master who can forgive us when we fail him and satisfy our heart. Career, romance, family relationships, education, money, sports, leisure, control, you name it - none of those things can forgive us if we fail them. We will know we are guilty of disappointing our master and work harder than ever to make it up and get in good standing. Only Christ gave his own life for us in order to become the Master of our hearts and lives - calling us to deeper trust in him and promising us grace when we fail him. We deserve infinite wrath from God our Creator - we have abandoned him, trusted in created things above him, and set our heart's affection on anything but him.

Yet Christ came, eternal God in human flesh, to reconcile us to himself. And the wild thing is this: only when we come under the Lordship of Jesus Christ, when he is our Master, do we become free. Only by setting our heart's deepest affection on him, tearing down any idols that threaten that Lordship and seeing him as all-satisfying, will we find true satisfaction in other things as well. When Christ is Lord in our heart, then career, money, family, education, success, leisure, comforts, will become be subordinate to him. Instead of ruling over us, they will matter properly (these are good things, and should be important) but not so much so that we are consumed and ruled by them.

I know this post is long, but I hope it is a good encouragement for you. You don't need to work harder at stopping bad habits, you need to see and love Jesus Christ above all else. You don't need to work harder at changing your attitudes, you need to look to Christ, belonging to him and being satisfied in him.

Soli Deo Gloria

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Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Worship, part 1

In the Christian community, "worship" has become a word synonymous with singing. It is typically relegated to that period that people sing about 3-5 songs before someone prays and the pastor comes up. Oh, and maybe you worship (sing) some more after the sermon, and then are dismissed and go home. The only problem with this is, well, the Bible.

In the Bible we don't find worship to be singing; we find worship to be something that is woven into the fabric of every human being. Instead of being something religious people do on Sundays, it is something every human being does. But, what is worship? Worship actually used to be spelled differently in the old days, and was called "worth-ship" (pronounce it with a lisp and you get the idea). Worship is giving something your utmost "worth" or value, your greatest amount of dedication. The object of worship is whatever you are centered on, whatever life ultimately depends on for you. And you know what? We were all created to worship God. And we'd all like to think that we worship God pretty well. The only problem with this is, well, the Bible.

The apostle Paul sums up humanity this way in Romans 1:22-25 - "Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen." You see, the opposite of worshiping God is not "not worshiping" but it is idolatry. Now idolatry is another word usually devoid of meaning these days because we think of people in foreign lands who make things out of wood or bronze, bow down to it or dance around it or paint silly things on their faces. The only problem with this is, well, the Bible (am I getting repetitive?).

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 14, God talks to the prophet Ezekiel about how the people of Israel had "taken idols into their hearts". This is known as heart idolatry and is the most subtle and deadliest kind of idolatry. Heart idolatry happens when someone removes God from the rightful position of authority, influence, and honor in their life and puts something else there. This could be a relationship, the pursuit of more money, your children, sports, independence, nature, education, or any number of other things. Heart idolatry can be hard to spot, but here are three ways to be pretty sure something has become an idol in your heart:
  1. What is it in your life that, if you lost it or it left you somehow, you would be utterly ruined and life would lose much of its meaning and purpose?
  2. What do you spend most of your time thinking about, being concerned with or maybe worrying over?
  3. What is that one thing that you routinely make sacrifices for? (The main thrust behind "sacrifice" here has to do with money and time being spent on itinstead of other things)
Here's the deal: usually an idol is actually a good thing like family, children, careers, your house, possessions like cars, boats, and your hobbies like golf, soccer, and so on. But, it becomes an idol when it becomes the Ultimate Thing in your life. This is called making a good thing a "god thing". So how do we get rid of these things? How can we return to worshiping God as God and keep other things in their right place? Is this even possible? We'll look at this next time.

Soli Deo Gloria

If you want an interesting read on "heart idolatry", click here for a great article.

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Monday, August 17, 2009

Goals for ministry

My pastor wants the staff to come up with some goals for the upcoming year in ministry. I wouldn't consider myself highly goal oriented - not to say I don't enjoy setting them, and especially accomplishing them, but it isn't the first thing I do in terms of planning. But goals, both general and specific, can keep us on track for where we need to be going in life. So, here are some goals for my upcoming year in ministry:

  1. I want to be the kind of youth pastor that kids don't see as religious or intimidating, but welcoming, friendly, and obviously interested in their lives
  2. I want to see my students take ownership of a youth ministry that has changed a great deal in the past few months with many students graduating and the "face" of the ministry changing
  3. It is my goal to spend up to 3 times a week just hanging out with students - not manipulating conversation, not a formal teaching time, but hanging out with them and their friends. This could be going to their games, taking them out for lunch or a drink, playing video games, whatever comes up.
  4. I want to be able to say come July of next year that I've stayed diligent, disciplined, and have not gotten complacent in any season of ministry.
  5. I want to pray more earnestly for our students as individuals and the times of gathering for Bible study. I have done a poor job of this on a consistent basis.
  6. I want to prepare to teach in such a way that I talk TO student and not AT them. They feel like they get talked at all the time, and I don't want to be one of those adults in their mind.
  1. It's my goal to see at least 3 new students at something every month. Wednesdays, events, Thursdays at Panera, Community Groups, whatever
  2. It is also my goal to see these new students connect with other students and feel an immediate sense of belonging, whether they "stick" to our group or not.
  3. It is my goal to be better organized with students' information - email, numbers, etc.
  4. It is my goal to have every message I give be Gospel focused and not morally focused
  5. I want every gathering to include time of prayer, both to openly rely on God for anything that happens of value, and to allow kids to pray and gain confidence in coming before the Father
These are just some things off the top of my head right now. In the end, I can write anything down but need to implement it if it will work.

Question: When you have set goals for yourself, no matter what the occasion, what made the difference in whether or not your succeeded or failed?

Soli Deo Gloria

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Saturday, August 15, 2009

Why this blog

To be honest, I'm not sure where the desire to start a blog of my own came from. I've been blogging on my church's site for some time but it occurs to me that I have so many more thoughts than I actually write on the site, and need some accountability to write them down and develop what I consider a God given gift and passion.

So, why "I know where the Bread is?" Because I am a beggar trying to tell other beggars where the Bread is. This is a popular phrase within the Christian subculture, referring to a humble approach to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Gospel, as Tim Keller has summed up so eloquently, is this: you are far worse than you ever dare believe, and you are far more loved than you ever dare imagine. We tend to have a very high view of our humanity, a view which the Bible shatters on nearly every page. We are not our own god, nor are we nearly as "free" as we wish we were. We are slaves and beggars, enslaved by our sinful nature and addictions, and in desperate need of grace. So I'm beginning this blog with the hope of being an encouragement to everyone, writing painfully transparent thoughts on the beautiful struggle that is the Christian life. I'm a beggar who has found his bread (fulfillment and meaning in life) from Jesus Christ, who called himself the Bread of life. I hope this post will be thought provoking and will be used by God to lead you to Himself.

Soli Deo Gloria

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