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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).

 

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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.

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

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