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Posts tagged ‘idols’

How The Best Spiritual Practices May Become Idols

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/The Gospel Coalition

Based on:  Deuteronomy 31; Psalm 119:97-120; Isaiah 58; Matthew 6

HOW SELF-DECEIVED WE HUMANS ARE when it comes to matters religious.

So many things that start off as incentives to repentance and godliness develop into vicious idols. What starts as an aid to holiness ends up as the triple trap of legalism, self-righteousness, and superstition.

So it was with the bronze snake in the wilderness. Although it was ordered and used by God (Num. 21:4-9), it became such a religious nonsense in later times that Hezekiah destroyed it (2 Kings 18:4).

So it sometimes is with other forms of religious observance or spiritual discipline.

One may with fine purpose and good reason start “journaling” as a discipline that breeds honesty and self-examination, but it can easily slide into the triple trap: in your mind you so establish journaling as the clearest evidence of personal growth and loyalty to Christ that you look down your nose at those who do not commit themselves to the same discipline, and pat yourself on the back every day that you maintain the practice (legalism); you begin to think that only the most mature saints keep spiritual journals, so you qualify—and you know quite a few who do not (self-righteousness); (c) you begin to think that there is something in the act itself, or in the paper, or in the writing, that is a necessary means of grace, a special channel of divine pleasure or truth (superstition). That is the time to throw away your journal.

Clearly, fasting can become a similar sort of trap.

The first five verses of Isaiah 58 expose and condemn the wrong kind of fast, while verses 6-12 describe the kind of fast that pleases God. The first is bound up with hypocrisy. People maintain their fasts, but quarrel in the family (Isa. 58:4). Their fasts do not stop them from exploiting their workers (Isa. 58:3b). These religious people are getting restless: “We tried fasting,” they say, “and it didn’t work” (Isa. 58:3). At a superficial level they seem to have a hunger for God and his way (Isa. 58:2). The truth is that they are beginning to treat the fast as if it were a bit of magic: because I’ve kept the fast, God has to bless me. Such thinking is both terribly sad and terribly evil.

By contrast, the fast that pleases God is marked by genuine repentance (Isa. 58:6-12).

Not only does it turn away from self-indulgence but it actively shares with the poor (Isa. 58:7), and intentionally strives “to loose the chains of injustice,” “to set the oppressed free and break every yoke” (Isa. 58:7), to abjure “malicious talk” (Isa. 58:9).

This is the fast that brings God’s blessing (Isa. 58:8-12).

 

Good Desires Gone Bad

SOURCE:  Taken from The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) p. 104-5.

Sometimes Our Sinful Desires May Be the Least of Our Worries!

It is important to emphasize the fact that idols can arise from good desires as well as wicked desires.

It is often not what we want that is the problem, but that we want it too much.

For example, it is not unreasonable for a man to want a passionate sexual relationship with his wife or for a mother to want to stay at home with a newborn baby. Nor is it wrong for an employer to want diligent workers or for a pastor to desire respect from his deacons. These are good desires, but if they turn into demands that must be met in order for us to be satisfied and fulfilled, they can lead to bitterness, resentment, or self-pity that can destroy a family, business, or church.

How can you discern when a good desire might be turning into a sinful demand? You can begin by prayerfully asking yourself “X-ray” questions that reveal the true condition of your heart.

  • What am I preoccupied with? What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?
  • How would I answer the question: “If only ______, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure”?
  • What do I want to preserve or to avoid at all costs?
  • Where do I put my trust?
  • What do I fear?
  • When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression?
  • Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?

What was the first thing on your mind this morning?

How about the last thing on your mind last night?

Is there a good desire in your life that’s beginning to becoming a recurring thought pattern for you?

As you consider this, remember the good news: God has ultimately satisfied that particular “good desire” through his Son. What remains is for us to trust and, through his grace, receive God’s eye-opening insight into the ways in which we are beginning to trust, fear, or dwell on something other than God himself. Spend time today in prayer to ask God to reveal areas of your life where you might be elevating a good desire into a sinful demand.

Addiction – I Bet You Got One

SOURCE:  Adapted from an article by Karl Benzio/Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Newsflash:  Every one of us is an addict.

You see, God wouldn’t give us the first commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me,” if he didn’t know our number 1 weakness.

In fact, God tells us in the other 9 commandments what our idolatry (addictions) might lead to.

You might think, “Well, not me. I don’t have any addictions.”

Newsflash #2: Every one of us is addicted to comfort.

Think about it. We all struggle to deal with discomfort, especially emotional or psychological pain. Even though we say “no pain, no gain”, it’s amazing how quickly we run away from pain, or need to quickly soothe or anesthetize it. You see, we are all born separated from God … and that is the ultimate pain. Even contemplating a temporary separation from His Father on the cross prompted Jesus to ask God to have this “cup” pass from Him.

As kids, we developed strategies to deal with pain. Unfortunately, we weren’t mature and our “teachers” weren’t perfect. So developing coping mechanisms for physical, psychological, relational, emotional, and spiritual pain was random, faulty and very short-sighted … not very effective for the long haul.

Our solutions are usually flesh-driven options, knee-jerk reactions, or immediate relievers. These “solutions” are the Addiction Objects … things we go to and rely on in a repetitive way to fill our needs instead of looking to God for His answers. The Bible calls them idols, lusts, and fleshly desires. I call them addictions because the same process occurs regardless of the addiction object. God could directly soothe us or He might choose to provide appropriate objects to fill our needs. But each time we need to look to Him first, not to the object.

Addiction objects can be drugs, alcohol, food or pornography. But they can also be anger (or any emotion), work, productivity, security, our intellect, kids, money, spending, a “martyr complex,” exercise, our looks/physique, sports, TV, hobbies, fighting, control, a relationship, sex, texting, Facebook, Twitter, etc. If it comforts you or relieves some negative feeling, Satan will use it as a tempting addiction object. People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything. How many times have you joked, “I am so addicted to…?”

One of the great lies that Satan perpetrates is that addiction objects offer self-protection. The truth is they are self-destructive. Just look at Solomon’s experiences in Ecclesiastes. He pursues everything under the sun for comfort, while leaving out God. He becomes overwhelmed, lost, and depressed. Then he finally declares all objects to be vanity (or meaningless) when God is not pursued first.

Today, let’s really do some honest reflection. When you are uneasy, lonely, stressed, etc., what do you go to first? Bingo! You found your addiction object.

Next time, try to look to God first and see what He prescribes for your pain. He is the Ultimate Physician and Healer and is always available for drop-ins. The question isn’t, “Do I have an addiction?” The question is “Am I using God’s power to control my addiction, or is my addiction interfering with my life?” Denying or admitting your need is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, for many years I struggled with the pain of needing to be needed, accepted, valued. I turned to my addictions for comfort, but they only caused more pain. You have freed me from my bondage to all addictions. But I still struggle with a need for control. Help me to tolerate discomfort, because your grace is sufficient. Help me to grow the Mind of Christ and to look to You as my ultimate Lighthouse of refuge and sanctuary. I pray in Christ’s freeing name.  AMEN!

The Truth

Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

Exodus 20:3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience– among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. 

Ephesians 2:1-3

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 

2 Corinthians 12:9,10

(1) Remember also your Creator in the days of your youth, before the evil days come and the years draw near of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
(8) Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher; all is vanity.
(10) The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth.
(13) The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. 

Ecclesiastes 12:1,8,10,13

Addictions – the Stone Gods

SOURCE: Taken from an article by Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

As kids, none of us sets out with the goal of feeling trapped in an addiction. Sadly, after a slow and insidious beginning, enslavement is the ultimate end for all addictive behaviors.

In certain key situations, addictions become our masters, the key authority in decision-making moments. So by definition, God is then subject to the addiction. A small percentage of people can feel the enslavement and lack of control. But most of us are fooled into thinking we aren’t enslaved, thinking we still have control, because the takeover is so subtle and usually occurs over a long period of time. The reality is that we easily become slaves to the objects that soothe us.

Being “trapped” is exactly where Satan wants us. He cleverly disguises our addiction objects. Because we aren’t stupid, and really don’t want to be slaves, Satan has to be subtle and crafty to help us progress down the pathway to enslavement.

People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything. The object of desire for an addict is always staring them right in the face. For some it’s using food as a source of comfort. For others it can be substances, alcohol, caffeine or pain pills. Subtler and more frequent options include control, relationships, anger, spending, Facebook, the phone, sports, TV, anxiety, panic attacks, guilt, fear, hobbies, money, power (think parenting tactics), a loud and intimidating voice, the silent treatment, avoidance … man, the list is endless! Just think of how many times these responses or objects got you into trouble. Yet you still do them! That is enslavement. In the end, we exalt ourselves above God and we want to feel good … no matter what.

People caught up in an addiction have replaced God with an idol.

They have found something that promises a good time, makes things better or easier to deal with, or makes the pain or struggle go away. What entered our life as a useful coping skill, tool, friend, or savior, quickly became a cruel master. The problem with idols is that we choose them because we want what we think they can give us, not because of what they actually are. We believe that they will do something for us, and we give them priority and ultimately, our devotion. But they are actually stone gods … illusions and lies that give us a little, but then trap us by interfering with the full, long-term relief that going to God will actually bring in full.

Today, readily admit you have an addiction. Be open with another person about what your top addiction objects are. Know as a Christian, that the Holy Spirit is in you to empower your pursuit of putting God on the throne of your heart, moment by moment.

Today’s scripture tells us that we are “crucified with Christ. therefore we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives within us.” This is the truth: we do not struggle alone. Christ is with us and in Him we are free. We slip daily. But don’t let Satan roll you over. Confess and understand why you turned to your idol instead of to God. With steady honesty and submission, and by applying God’s instruction and promises, you will be set free. When you are uncomfortable emotionally, notice what you turn to for soothing. God or ??? It’s your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, Today more than ever I need You to live up to that divine title of Savior. I need You to save me from myself, my addictions, my fear, my burdens. I am so tired of trying to do it on my own. I am weary and exhausted, stressed out and alone. Come to me and save me. Free me from my fears and help me to hold onto You, so that my life, my dreams, and my hopes can be renewed. I pray this in the name of the One whom You sent to set me free from all enslavement, Jesus Christ;  AMEN!

The Truth
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, 

Isaiah 61:1

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. 

Galatians 2:20

The “React Without Thinking” or “Ignore It” Strategies — Is There Yet Another Way?

SOURCE:  Karl Benzio/Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Don’t Wait … Do It Now!

When faced with difficulties or discomfort of daily storms or life’s challenges, our natural reactions/defenses, or at least the ones that most people learn in our world today, usually fall into one of 2 categories. Either 1. ignore the problem and hope it goes away, or 2. react in a knee-jerk way to the problem while usually bringing immediate relief, often guarantees more actual damage later on.

Obviously, neither option works well for long-term fulfillment or peace, but being addicted to comfort as we all are … yes, we all have idols of the heart that we turn to instead of God at times … like a gunslinger from the Old West, we continue to quick-draw these so-called defense “weapons” when we feel threatened by the adversity God allows to enter our day.

I have learned … well no, I actually continue to learn, and sometimes the hard way, that failing to deal with adversity immediately compounds the pain and suffering immensely. Waiting, ignoring, or hiding never makes it better.

But I also am still in the process of learning that even though I shouldn’t put it off, I also can’t just immediately react with my not-thought-out knee-jerk response. We have to think first and then respond to have the best chance for success especially in challenging situations that press our emotional buttons.

Using either the “ignore it” or “react without thinking” strategy really shows a “my kingdom come, my will be done mentality” thus exposing my lack of faith in God’s promises, track record, character, sovereignty and plan for my life. We really need a “Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done” mindset. That recognizes His majesty as well as our limitations, not to mention it really is the best for our well-being and optimum plan of attacking the challenge before us.

In the Scripture reading for today, Jesus Christ lays down a very important principle: do what you must do now. Do it quickly. If you do not act immediately, if you do not pay the price to settle the adversity, an inevitable process begins … and that process will not stop until you have “paid the last penny.”

Today, think of an adversity that continues to drain you. Why are you not addressing it head on with Godly discernment?

Settle that score today, at least to the best of what you can control. God has given you answers to deal with it externally (behaviorally), or internally (inside your head). Don’t procrastinate, act now moving toward the mind of Christ, as that is where you will find God’s peace. Procrastinating or acting clearly and now when facing adversity is your decision, so choose well.

Dear Father God, I know I have stayed away from Your light for fear that my bad deeds, sins, and adversities will be exposed. I no longer want to live in darkness. I pray, Father, that You will help me live by Your Truth and in Your Light so that all can see what I do is done through You. Help me, Lord, to learn to deal with my adversities immediately so that they won’t fester and grow. But help me see life through Your eyes then respond with Your wisdom. I pray in the name of the One you sent to teach us truth, Jesus Christ– AMEN!

The Truth
Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. I tell you the truth; you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

Matthew 5:25,26

This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.

John 3:19-21

Hindrances In Connecting With God: Idolatry

SOURCE:  Leslie Vernick

In the Old Testament, Israel not only struggled with unbelief, but also with idolatry.

Their hearts were drawn away from loving the one true God, and they began worshipping other things like a golden calf or a wooden pole. When we read these stories, we say to ourselves, “How stupid could they have been?” Yet, today we do the same things. Our idol isn’t a golden calf, but it is gold or money. It may not be a wooden pole but it might be the ladder of success or popularity.

One way I look for my idolatry is to be mindful of the things I love. Loving things other than God is not wrong, but God says that we are to love him first and most.

Often my other loves aren’t bad things; they’re good things that I love too much. Richard Baxter, a Puritan preacher and biblical counselor in the 1600s wrote, “Were nothing over loved, it would have no power to torment us.” One way we know whether we love something too much is to see how much power we give it to wreak havoc on our mental and emotional life when we think we might not get it.

Some people love approval and acceptance from others. Who doesn’t love it when everyone thinks we’re wonderful, but are we distraught when we don’t receive it? Do we get anxious and teary at the slightest hint of disapproval or rejection? Most of us love control and desire to have some measure of control over our lives and the people and things around us. But what happens to you and in you when you don’t have control? Do you become angry, fearful, or despondent? These emotions can be good warning lights to remind us that we have allowed our heart to be captured by other loves and we’re trusting in our idol instead of in God.

God says he is a jealous God and will show us our other loves (see Jeremiah 3), but he hates being second or third in our lives (Psalm 78:58). When we continue to love other things more than we love him, we forfeit our intimacy with him (Isaiah 42:17; Jonah 2:8). God won’t be relegated to the position of a cosmic errand boy that we call upon when we think we need him or want something. He wants to be our lover, our best friend, our King and our Lord.

Having idols distracts you and keeps you from intimacy and a deeper relationship with God. Anger, depression and discouragement may result when our idols disappoint us as they always will. We have lost our first love, and we are undone. This suffering will either draw our heart back towards God or make us bitter towards God.

God knows that we can only hold on to him with all of our heart when we have let go of everything else.

Beware the Peril that Lurks in Success

SOURCE:  Jon Bloom/Desiring God

It happened, late one afternoon, when David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful.  (2 Samuel 11:2)

We are never more vulnerable to sin than when we are successful, admired by others, and prosperous, as King David tragically discovered. Imagine him reflecting on his adultery a year later.

It was spring again. David once had loved warm, fragrant spring afternoons on the palace roof. But this year the scent of almond blossoms smelled like deep regret.

David had no desire to look toward Uriah’s empty house. If only he had not looked that way a year ago. The memory throbbed with pain. His conscience had warned him to stop watching Bathsheba. But in his desire-induced inertia it had felt like he couldn’t pull himself away.

What pathetic self-deception! Couldn’t pull himself away. He would never have tolerated such a weak excuse in another man. If Nathan had unexpectedly shown up while he was leering would he have pulled himself away? O yes! Wouldn’t have risked his precious reputation!

But there on the roof alone, he had lingered. And in those minutes, sinful indulgence metastasized into a wicked, ultimately lethal plan.

David wept. His sovereign, lustful selfishness had stripped a married woman of her honor, murdered her loyal, valiant husband, and killed his own innocent baby boy. Bathsheba was now left with a desolate, hollow sadness.

And he shuddered at the Lord’s dark promise: “The sword will never depart from your house”(2 Samuel 12:10). The destruction had not run its full course.

How had he come to this?

David thought back to those harrowing years when Saul chased him around Horesh. How often had he felt desperate? Daily he had depended on God for survival. He had longed for escape and peace in those days. Now he viewed them as among the best of his life.

And then came the tumultuous, heady years of uniting Judah and Israel under his kingship and subduing their enemies. And it had all climaxed with God’s almost unbelievable promise to establish David’s throne forever.

Had a man ever been so blessed by God? Every promise to him had been kept. Everything David touched had flourished. Never had Israel as a nation been so spiritually alive, so politically stable, so wealthy, so militarily powerful.

And at the peak of this unprecedented prosperity, David had committed such heinous sin. Why? How could he have resisted so many temptations in dangerous, difficult days and then yield at the height of success?

Almost as soon as the question formed in his mind he knew the answer. Pride. Monstrous, self-obsessed pride.

Honored by his God, a hero to his people, a terror to his enemies, surrounded by fawning assistants and overflowing affluence, the poisonous weed of self-worship had grown insidiously in David’s heart. The lowly shepherd that God had plucked by sheer grace from Bethlehem’s hills to serve as king had been eclipsed in his own mind by David the Great, the savior of Israel — a man whose exalted status entitled him to special privileges.

David cupped his face in his hands as his shame washed over him again. Bathsheba’s body had been nothing more than a special privilege he had decided to bestow on himself. And in so doing he had placed himself above God, his office, his nation, Uriah’s honor and life, Bathsheba’s welfare — everything. David had sacrificed everything to the idol of himself.

David fell on his face and wept again. And he poured out his broken, contrite heart to God.

But profound hope was woven into the deep remorse David felt. Knowing he deserved death, David marveled at and worshiped God for the unfathomable depths of mercy in the words, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (2 Samuel 12:13). It took his breath away. This word had come before a single sacrifice had been offered.

This was love that surpassed knowledge. Something miraculous was at work here, something much more powerful than horrific sin. David wasn’t quite sure how it worked. What he did know is that he wanted other transgressors to know the amazingly gracious ways of God.

The greatest enemy of our souls is the pathologically selfish pride at the core of our fallen natures. If we look deep enough, this is what we will find feeding the strong, sinful cravings of our appetites.

And this is why prosperity can be so spiritually dangerous. We tend to see our need for God more clearly in adversity. But seasons of success can be our most perilous because we are so easily deceived into thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought to think. Self-exalting pride is what leads us to usurp God’s rightful rule.

We must beware this danger that lurks in blessings.

And when we sin, we must run to and not avoid the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). On this side of the cross we now know fully what David didn’t: God put away our sin by placing them on himself.

Only at the cross will we hear, “The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die.” Ever.

————————————————————————————————————–

Jon Bloom (@Bloom_Jon) is President of Desiring God, which he and John Piper launched together in 1994.

Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch

SOURCE:  D.A. Carson/Gospel Coalition/For the Love of God

Reference:  1 Kings 21; 1 Thessalonians 4; Daniel 3; Psalm 107

THE IMAGE NEBUCHADNEZZAR SET UP (DAN. 3) was doubtless designed to unify the empire. That is why he ordained that all “peoples, nations and men of every language … must fall down and worship the image of gold” (Dan. 3:4–5).

Living as he did in a pluralistic culture where people could with impunity add gods to their personal pantheon, Nebuchadnezzar saw no reason but rebellion or intransigent insubordination for anyone to refuse to worship the image. The threat of the furnace, from his perspective, guaranteed conformity, and the potential political gain was incalculable.

Furnaces in Babylon were primarily for the firing of bricks (cf. Gen. 11:3), widely used because suitable building stone was so scarce. Some large brick kilns have been dug up outside the ruins of ancient Babylon. Certainly Nebuchadnezzar would have had no scruples about burning people to death (Jer. 29:22).

The striking exchange in this chapter is between Nebuchadnezzar and the three young men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, after their first refusal to bow before the image (Dan. 3:13–18). The emperor’s final taunt almost dares any god to come forward: “Then what god will be able to rescue you from my hand?” (Dan. 3:15).

Of course, as a pagan, he lived in a world of powerful but definitely finite gods, and in some instances, he certainly felt that he was their equal or even their superior. From the perspective of biblical theism, this is monstrous arrogance.

But it is the answer of the three men that deserves memorizing and pondering:  “O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Dan. 3:16–18).

Observe:

(a) Their basic courtesy and respect are undiminished, however bold their words.

(b) They are completely unwilling to apologize for their stance. The wise believer never apologizes for God or for any of his attributes.

(c) They do not doubt God’s ability to save them, and they say so: God is not hostage to other gods, or to human beings, emperors or otherwise.

(d) But whether or not God will save them they cannot know—and the point is immaterial to their resolve.

Faithfulness is not dependent upon an escape hatch.

They choose faithfulness because it is the right thing to do, even if it costs them their lives.

The courage we need in this anti-Christian age is courteous and steadfast. It never apologizes for God. It joyfully believes that God can do anything, but it is prepared to suffer rather than compromise hearty obedience.

“ADDICTION” may seem too strong a term, BUT . . . ?!?

 SOURCE:  John Eldredge

Reenacting the Fall

The story of Eden is not over.

Every day we reenact the Fall as we turn in our desire to the very things that will destroy us.

As Gerald May reminds us, Addiction exists wherever persons are internally compelled to give energy to things that are not their true desires. To define it directly, addiction is a state of compulsion, obsession, or preoccupation that enslaves a person’s will and desire. Addiction sidetracks and eclipses the energy of our deepest, truest desire for love and goodness. (Addiction and Grace)

Addiction may seem too strong a term to some of you. The woman who is serving so faithfully at church-surely, there’s nothing wrong with that. And who can blame the man who stays long at the office to provide for his family? Sure, you may look forward to the next meal more than most people do, and your hobbies can be a nuisance sometimes, but to call any of this an addiction seems to stretch the word a bit too far.

I have one simple response: give it up.

Let go of the things that provide you with a sense of security, or comfort, or excitement, or relief.

You will soon discover the tentacles of attachment deep in your soul. There will be an anxiousness; you’ll begin to think about work or food or golf even more. Withdrawal will set in. If you can make it a week or two out of sheer willpower, you will find a sadness growing in your soul, a deep sense of loss. Lethargy and a lack of motivation follow.

Remember, we will make an idol of anything, especially a good thing.

So distant now from Eden, we are desperate for life, and we come to believe that we must arrange for it as best we can, or no one will.

God must thwart us to save us.

————————————————————
(Desire , 92-93)

Engaging Our Gay Friends, Relatives and Colleagues

Source:  John Freeman/Harvest USA

It seems that homosexuality has embraced our culture and the culture has embraced homosexuality. It is a part of the fallen nature of things, that man has always been an expert at creating ingenuous ways to celebrate his brokenness. So, men and women in the gay life have no corner on this:. Apart from faith in Christ and submission to the authority of Scripture, we are all experts at rationalizing and justifying what we want to do. The more we live, in any way, outside of God’s design, the more we convince ourselves that what we are doing is OK. This happens on both an individual level and a corporate, cultural level. Homosexuality is not the only thing that was once considered unacceptable or immoral, but later is embraced by the culture (consider abortion and sex outside of marriage).

Scripture says we’re all a mess and that we all need forgiveness and cleansing. Biblically speaking, we’re all in the same boat. We all need the same medicine of the gospel to free us from whatever attachments or idols we cling to— from whatever we have decided “gives us life” apart from Christ. This realization about ourselves should bring to us a growing compassion for others. Believers in Christ should be the first ones to acknowledge that we still pursue our own personal idols, and it is only by the persistent work of the Holy Spirit in our lives that we become aware of our own sin and the need to repent of it.

Homosexuality is one of those topics that draws intense and passionate reactions. Complex issues of the heart usually do. Christians are in a sort of no-man’s-land here today.   Suggesting to those who have embraced the current cultural position that homosexuality is sinful and not part of God’s design for sexuality appears as uneducated, homophobic and ridiculous. On the other hand, though, suggesting to fellow evangelical believers that God loves and forgives sinners who struggle with homosexuality and that we should do the same may appear compromising and wishy-washy.

While we can oppose the advancement of a social movement that would encourage everyone to embrace this cultural shift by vocalizing our concerns and participating in the political process, for Christians a far deeper response to homosexuality and the gay community is needed. When believers proclaim the gospel of Christ both to gays and to the culture at large in a loving, redemptive manner, punctuated with “grace and truth,” this sets us apart and truly reflects the person of Christ. In such a heated and increasingly emotionalized debate, Christians have a responsibility to represent Christ to a fallen world in four ways.

Patiently Listen 

“Let every person be quick to hear” (James 1:9).  This doesn’t mean looking for loopholes in a debate or seeking a chance to criticize and find fault as you talk about this issue. We must listen in order to understand the “heart thrust” of what a person is saying. This is hard work, a relational skill to be learned. It’s not natural. It takes practice. Listen to what moves other people. Listen for their passions, what they value, what their experience has been (especially with other Christians) and what they fear.

The more you understand a person’s point of view, the more you can profit from it. Why do they think the way they do? What events have led up to their adopting their worldview? What’s been their experience of Christianity—of other Christians or the church in general? What wounds from their family of origin and from other people lie festering in the background? As adults, we’re a composite of all these things—upbringing, personal wounds, cultural norms and our own heart-generated responses to these powerful, shaping influences. Get to know the persons you are talking to so that you truly know who they are. Otherwise, we tend to conveniently lump them into a group, label them on the basis of what we read in the news, and think this is “knowing” them.

Personally Repent

“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans? . . . No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:1-5). Only a redeemed sinner, knowing he stands condemned apart from Christ’s death on the cross, can reach a sinner who doesn’t know he needs redeeming. What’s your motivation when you engage someone with the gospel? Is it to reach lost people with the enduring love that has found you out— a love that has exposed you as a cut-throat and depraved sinner and yet has embraced you with fatherly love? Is it your own awareness that, at heart, you’re a sham, a misfit, a counterfeit, a phony and that there is nothing good inside you to warrant God’s love, yet He still died in your place to make you whole? Do you really care about homosexuals, as men and women who need the love of Christ, or do you only want them to shut up and disappear? Remember that Jesus said, “He who is forgiven little, loves little” (Luke 7:47). If you have no love for gays, then you have not understood the forgiving love of Jesus in your own life.

Patiently listening and personally repenting also means loving those who are different, who believe differently. Gays have long been “demonized” by Christians, held up as the examples of the worst kind of people. This is grossly unfair and unloving, not to mention grossly unbiblical. No single group of people corners the market on sinful behavior outside of God’s design. There is simply no place for believers to verbally demean or physically abuse gays. If your neighbor or colleague proclaimed to you that he didn’t believe in God, would you go around mocking him?

Gently Instruct

“The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone . . . correcting his opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:22-25). How do you talk to people who don’t believe what you do? An argumentative, win-at-all-costs approach does not conform to what Paul wrote to Timothy. You need to ask the Holy Spirit to instruct your own heart as you instruct others. Engaging someone “with gentleness” does not mean being weak or vacillating in your argument; it means treating everyone with respect and dignity even when they persistently disagree. An unloving and impatient heart is a hindrance to the gospel message. The Lord’s command to us through the words of Paul teaches us here: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

“Gently instruct” also means that your words must be grounded in the truth of Scripture, not your own opinion. The real issue regarding what Scripture says about homosexuality is not about whether the key passages are culturally relevant anymore, but whether Scripture in its entirety still has authority over all of life. It should always be the truths of Scripture, and not our demeanor or presentation of it, that people reject.

Do you really care about homosexuals — or do you only want them to shut up and disappear?

Talking to those who are blind to the reality of their hearts but who live in a world that applauds their sin is both a privilege and a challenge. They are victims of their own sin and the lies and sin of others. Therefore, they’re caught. But they’re also accountable before a holy God for their continued choice to live life on their own terms and not submit their lives to the Lordship of Christ. We must represent both aspects of the truth as we share Christ.

  Mercifully Pursue and then Engage the Heart

“Have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire, hating even the garment stained by the flesh” (Jude 22-23). God calls us to be neither reclusive nor rude, but to move boldly into confusing, high-stakes situations with the gospel of God’s mercy.

We bring the gospel where it is most needed: to the vocally anti-Christian pro-gay activistto the mild-mannered clergy who says the love of Jesus means affirming homosexuality as God’s gift; to the confused and scared teenager who fears he’s gay and there’s no other option. Showing mercy means practically caring for people. It means being patiently and persistently available to help those who live in a fallen world. It means lovingly holding our ground against those who say that our beliefs are hateful.  We must not wilt from the irrational heat of those who say that we are hateful bigots merely on the basis that we do not agree with their beliefs.

As we do this, we’re able to move into other people’s worlds. Engaging people by asking good questions, respectfully, is an important part of this.   I once approached a man who was marching in a gay rally. Subsequently, I had a two-hour conversation that ended with this man shaking my hand and thanking me for stopping him— in spite of the fact that I shared the gospel with him! I had listened to him, heard his concerns and engaged his heart with matters important to him. Didn’t Jesus do the same?

My approach appealed to his heart. Listening, asking questions, and engaging people with respect, even if we have fundamental differences, gets people into their story more quickly than anything else. When we take time to get people into their stories, they become more open to us and to the gospel.

Jesus, of course, was the master of all that I’ve just described. We should be, too. His methods are the most under-utilized and missed aspects of evangelism. They also make the deepest and most heart-felt impact, often leaving people wanting more!

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This article originally appeared in the May 2010 edition of Tabletalk magazine, but has been edited and expanded for this publication. We invite you to comment on this article on the Harvest USA blog, Sex, Lies and God’s Design at http://www.truthandmercy.wordpress.com

Some “Right” Things Are “Wrong!”

SOURCE: Taken from a devotion by  Stepping Stones/Lighthouse Network

Do You Have a Strategy to Resist Satan’s Sweets?

The Holy Spirit led Jesus to the desert, where he fasted for 40 days and the Bible says Satan tempted Him for the duration of that time. But towards the end, Jesus faced a significant temptation of hunger, a very realistic human physical need.

Is eating to satisfy our hunger wrong? Of course not. But Jesus had been led by the Spirit and had made a commitment to God to fast during this time period. Breaking the fast by putting His desire for food above His commitment to the Father would have been sin.

There are many desires we experience throughout each day that are normal and good: to succeed in a job, to dress nicely, to make or listen to music, to prosper financially and provide for our family, to enjoy shopping, to commit to a relationship, to participate in a ministry, to see someone we miss, to enjoy a skill or hobby we have. And the list could go on.

These things are not wrong in themselves, but they are wrong if they take priority over our relationship with the Lord. God’s plan and God’s leading must always come first.

Jesus responded to the temptation by quoting Scripture. “Man shall not live and be sustained by bread alone, but by every word and expression of God.” In other words, spiritual matters and faithfulness to God are life-sustaining and more important than physical resources could ever be, especially when it comes to meeting our basic needs.

Today, take a moment to think about your life. Is there an area that is taking priority that should not be … that takes up mind space or emotional energy and is pushing God and other important Earthly responsibilities out? Is it causing you to slide backwards in your relationship with God? Is it tempting you to make wrong choices? If so, now is the time to get back on track. As Jesus taught us, turn to God’s Word. Say “no” to the temptation. That choice honors God and is the best thing for you anyway. Develop a concrete strategy to break that hold on your heart.

Prayer

Dear God, I confess there are areas in my life that are causing me to slide in my relationship with You. Fill me with Your Spirit so that I seek and better understand your Holy Bible and allow it to guide me as it guided Jesus. Please help me put your word into action for practical living, and not just a part of my rarely visited spiritual-intellectual library. I pray this in the name of the One who always honored His ultimate priority, Jesus Christ; AMEN!

The Truth

Then the devil said to Him, If You are the Son of God, order this stone to turn into a loaf of bread. And Jesus replied to him, “It is written, Man shall not live and be sustained by (on) bread alone but by every word and expression of God.”

Luke 4:3-4

 No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.

1 Corinthians 10:13,14

Am I In Danger of Having Idols In My Life?

SOURCE:  Taken from a devotion by Living Free Ministry

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.” Colossians 3:5 NIV

Thoughts for Today
When we think of idols, we most likely picture a statue or altar of some kind. Most of us probably would never think of bowing down to such a false god. However, we could be in danger of bowing down to a more subtle idol.

An idol is anything we look to for solutions only God can provide.

When we look to anyone or anything other than Christ as our primary source of meaning, self-worth, comfort, or fulfillment, we are in danger of having an idol in our lives.

Consider this … 
The three main categories of idols are substances, behaviors, and relationships.

The most obvious substances are alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs, but even food can become an abused substance.

Behaviors include things like gambling and pornography. Even innocent behaviors like shopping, television viewing, and work can become idols when we place too much importance on them.

Relationship problems are often entangled with substance and behavior problems and can enslave us when we try to control others or live to please others.

When we choose to look to a substance, behavior, or relationship for help only God can provide, we have chosen to follow an idol. Such a choice will prevent us from serving and loving God freely.

Are you looking to a substance, behavior, or relationship for solutions only God can provide?

Prayer
Father, help me remember that Christ is my primary source of meaning, self-worth, comfort, and fulfillment. I know that any other source can become an idol if I place it above you. Please show me if I have done that. Please forgive me, and help me put you first in every area of my life. In Jesus’ name . . .


These thoughts were drawn from …

Living Free by Jimmy Ray Lee, D. Min. and Dan Strickland, M. Div.

Being “trapped” is exactly where Satan wants us

 SOURCE: Adapted from an article at:   Lighthouse Network/Stepping Stones

Addictions – the Stone Gods

As kids, none of us set out with the goal of feeling trapped in an addiction.

Sadly, after a slow and insidious beginning, that is the ultimate end for all addictive behaviors: enslavement.

Addictions make us slaves to that object. Some people can feel the enslavement very specifically. Others are fooled into thinking they aren’t enslaved, because the takeover is so subtle and usually occurs over a big chunk of time. The reality is, we easily become slaves to the objects that soothe us. Being “trapped” is exactly where Satan wants us. He cleverly disguises our addiction objects. Because we aren’t stupid, and really don’t want to be slaves, Satan has to be subtle and crafty to help us progress down the enslavement pathway.

People can find themselves obsessively and compulsively hooked on almost anything. The object of desire for an addict is always staring them right in the face.

For some it’s using food as a source of comfort. For others it can be substances, control, relationships, anger, spending, Facebook, the phone, sports, TV, anxiety, panic attacks, guilt, fear, hobbies, money, power (think parent tactics), a loud and intimidating voice, the silent treatment, avoidance … man, the list is endless. Just think of how many times these responses or objects got you into trouble, yet you still do them. That is enslavement.

People caught up in an addiction have replaced God with an idol.

They have found something that promises a good time, makes things better or easier to deal with, or makes the pain or struggle go away. What entered life as an understanding resource, tool, friend, or savior quickly became a cruel master.

The problem with idols is that they are chosen because we want what we think they can give us, not because of what they actually are. We believe that they will do something for us, so we give them our devotion. But they are actually stone gods … illusions and lies that give us a little, but then trap us by interfering with the full, long term relief that going to God will actually bring in-full.

Today, know and spread the news that for believers there is great hope. We are not alone in our addictions. No matter where we are, the Holy Spirit is within us and intercedes for us before God.

When you are uncomfortable emotionally, notice what you turn to for soothing. Today’s scripture tells us that we are “crucified with Christ, therefore we no longer live, but it is Christ who lives within us.”

This is the truth: we do not struggle alone. Christ is with us, and in Him we are free. When we are focused on Him, we can find the strength we need for freedom and victory over all our addictions. Your decision, so choose well.

Prayer

Dear Father God, Today more than ever I need You to live up to that divine title of Savior. I need You to save me from myself, my addictions, my fear, my burdens. I am so tired of trying to do it on my own. I am weary and exhausted, stressed out and alone. Come to me and save me. Free me from my fears and help me to hold onto You, so that my life, dreams, and hopes can be renewed. I pray this in the name of the One whom You sent to set me free from all enslavement, Jesus Christ;  – AMEN!

The Truth

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

Isaiah 61:1

I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me.

Galatians 2:20

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

SOURCE:  From an article by David Powlison submitted by Justin Taylor

THE IDOL FACTORY

David Powlison:

The relevance of massive chunks of Scripture hangs on our understanding of idolatry.

But let me focus the question through a particular verse in the New Testament which long troubled me. The last line of 1 John woos, then commands us:

“Beloved children, keep yourselves from idols” (1 John 5:21).

In a 105-verse treatise on living in vital fellowship with Jesus, the Son of God, how on earth does that unexpected command merit being the final word?

Is it perhaps a scribal emendation?

Is it an awkward faux pas by a writer who typically weaves dense and orderly tapestries of meaning with simple, repetitive language?

Is it a culture-bound, practical application tacked onto the end of one of the most timeless and heaven-dwelling epistles?

Each of these alternatives misses the integrity and power of John’s final words.

Instead, John’s last line properly leaves us with that most basic question which God continually poses to each human heart.

Has something or someone besides Jesus the Christ taken title to your heart’s trust, preoccupation, loyalty, service, fear and delight?

It is a question bearing on the immediate motivation for one’s behavior, thoughts, and feelings. In the Bible’s conceptualization, the motivation question is the lordship question.

Who or what “rules” my behavior, the Lord or a substitute?

The undesirable answers to this question—answers which inform our understanding of the “idolatry” we are to avoid—are most graphically presented in 1 John 2:15-173:7-104:1-6, and 5:19. It is striking how these verses portray a confluence of the “sociological,” the “psychological,” and the “demonological” perspectives on idolatrous motivation.

The inwardness of motivation is captured by the inordinate and proud “desires of the flesh” (1 John 2:16), our inertial self-centeredness, the wants, hopes, fears, expectations, “needs” that crowd our hearts.

The externality of motivation is captured by “the world” (1 John 2:15-17,4:1-6), all that invites, models, reinforces, and conditions us into such inertia, teaching us lies.

The “demonological” dimension of motivation
 is the Devil’s behavior-determining lordship (1 John 3:7-10,5:19), standing as a ruler over his kingdom of flesh and world.

In contrast, to “keep yourself from idols” is to live with a whole heart of faith in Jesus.

It is to be controlled by all that lies behind the address “Beloved children” (see especially 1 John 3:1-3,4:7-5:12).

The alternative to Jesus, the swarm of alternatives, whether approached through the lens of flesh, world, or the Evil One, is idolatry.

Wanting TOO MUCH of a Good Thing

SOURCE:  Taken from  The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict by Ken Sande, Updated Edition (Grand Rapids, Baker Books, 2003) pp. 104-5

Sometimes Our Sinful Desires May Be the Least of Our Worries!

 It is important to emphasize the fact that idols can arise from good desires as well as wicked desires.  It is often not what we want that is the problem, but that we want it too much.

For example, it is not unreasonable for a man to want a passionate sexual relationship with his wife or for a mother to want to stay at home with a newborn baby. Nor is it wrong for an employer to want diligent workers or for a pastor to desire respect from his deacons. These are good desires, but if they turn into demands that must be met in order for us to be satisfied and fulfilled, they can lead to bitterness, resentment, or self-pity that can destroy a family, business, or church.

How can you discern when a good desire might be turning into a sinful demand?

You can begin by prayerfully asking yourself  “X-ray” questions that reveal the true condition of your heart:

  • What am I preoccupied with? What is the first thing on my mind in the morning and the last thing on my mind at night?
  • How would I answer the question: “If only ______, then I would be happy, fulfilled, and secure”?
  • What do I want to preserve or to avoid at all costs?
  • Where do I put my trust?
  • What do I fear?
  • When a certain desire is not met, do I feel frustration, anxiety, resentment, bitterness, anger, or depression?
  • Is there something I desire so much that I am willing to disappoint or hurt others in order to have it?

Food for Thought

What was the first thing on your mind this morning? How about the last thing on your mind last night? Is there a good desire in your life that’s beginning to becoming a recurring thought pattern for you?

As you consider this, remember the good news:  God has ultimately satisfied that particular “good desire” through his Son. What remains is for us to trust and, through his grace, receive God’s eye-opening insight into the ways in which we are beginning to trust, fear, or dwell on something other than God himself. Spend time today in prayer to ask God to reveal areas of your life where you might be elevating a good desire into a sinful demand.

Anything Becomes an IDOL When It Keeps Me Away From God

SOURCE: Charles Spurgeon

WITH THEE IS THE FOUNTAIN OF LIFE

There are times in our spiritual experience when human counsel or sympathy, or religious ordinances, fail to comfort or help us. Why does our gracious God permit this?

Perhaps it is because we have been living too much without him, and he therefore takes away everything upon which we have been in the habit of depending, that he may drive us to himself.

It is a blessed thing to live at the fountain head. While our skin- bottles are full, we are content, like Hagar and Ishmael, to go into the wilderness; but when those are dry, nothing will serve us but “Thou God seest me.” We are like the prodigal, we love the swine-troughs and forget our Father’s house. Remember, we can make swine-troughs and husks even out of the forms of religion; they are blessed things, but we may put them in God’s place, and then they are of no value.

Anything becomes an idol when it keeps us away from God: even the brazen serpent is to be despised as “Nehushtan,” if we worship it instead of God. The prodigal was never safer than when he was driven to his father’s bosom, because he could find sustenance nowhere else.

Our Lord favours us with a famine in the land that it may make us seek after himself the more.

The best position for a Christian is living wholly and directly on God’s grace—still abiding where he stood at first—“Having nothing, and yet possessing all things.” Let us never for a moment think that our standing is in our sanctification, our mortification, our graces, or our feelings, but know that because Christ offered a full atonement, therefore we are saved; for we are complete in him. Having nothing of our own to trust to, but resting upon the merits of Jesus—his passion and holy life furnish us with the only sure ground of confidence.

Beloved, when we are brought to a thirsting condition, we are sure to turn to the fountain of life with eagerness.

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Spurgeon, C. H. (2006). Morning and evening : Daily readings (Complete and unabridged; New modern edition.). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers.

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