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Kindle deals for Christian readers

The Profiles of Reformed Spirituality series is on sale for $1.99 each:

Also on sale:

Why Peter’s Idiocy Is So Helpful

Jeff Medders:

But here’s what I love about Peter, he always came back around. He never let shame rest on him. He always turned, repented, rethought his thoughts, and came back to following Jesus. What patience Jesus has for his sheep!

How to pray for and support persecuted Christians

Good thoughts here from Dave Jenkins.

I Want A “Do-Over”

Tullian Tchividjian:

In many ways, all of our striving under this performance idol is a grown-up re-creation of the adolescent playground cry: “I want a do-over!” Have you ever heard that? Watch children playing a game at a park like football or basketball. Maybe somebody messed up the opening kick. Maybe they weren’t sure the ball stayed in bounds or not. So somebody proclaims, “Do-over!” And they start over. They have to get it right. They want the bad play erased and replaced by the good play.

We’re still doing this into our adult years, trying to manage our lives in some bizarre system of spiritual checks and balances, trying to outweigh our bad plays with our “do-overs.”

“All the Law and the Prophets…” in a piece of fruit

Jared Totten:

We’re all familiar with the story. In fact, if you grew up in the church, you’re probably so familiar with the story that there’s no surprise, no suspense left in it. But Genesis 3 is an epic drama. The fate of the entire human race hanging in the balance as good and evil are paraded across this cosmic stage. It was Shakespearean before Shakespearean was cool.

And at the center of it all: fruit. Yep, skin and pulp and juice. A plum, a pear, maybe a pomegranate. We don’t know. There are some (quite serious) people out there who are certain it was a grape because wine comes from grapes and wine is the devil’s drink. I’ll leave that discussion for another time (perhaps after we share in the Communion table?).

But almost every person who has read that fateful chapter has at one time or another expressed the same frustration and confusion at the account of the fall:

“What’s the big deal with the fruit?!!”

Loyal To My Faults

Aaron Earls:

Often times, I will stick with something or someone long after they have proven they should not longer have my loyalty. The pain of giving up and changing is harder for me than dealing with the disappointment that comes from being loyal when you shouldn’t.

Maybe I fit the phrase “loyal to a fault,” but I know that I, along with many others, absolutely fit the phrase “loyal to my faults.”

Three Questions to Help Diagnose Possible Football Idolatry

I don’t know hardly anything about football, but this article from Kevin DeYoung is still helpful.

The gospel wore us down

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Sometimes I wonder if the apostle Paul would say if were to arrive in my city. I suspect it would be pretty similar to what he told the men of Athens, “I see that you are extremely religious in every respect” (Acts 17:22). But unlike the men of Athens, most hearers in London, Toronto, New York, or any number of North American cities would be shocked by these words. After all, we borderline pride ourselves on our irreligion.

Which may reveal just how religious we truly are.

The second commandment forbids God’s people from making idols for ourselves, “whether in the shape of anything in the heavens above or on the earth below or in the waters under the earth” (Exodus 20:4). Many of us read this command, and think, “Don’t worship angels. Don’t make statues or carvings of animals, bugs, birds, fish or anything like that.” Then we look around our houses, smile a bit and say, “Nailed it.”

Which may reveal just how self-deceived we truly are.

What we fail to realize—both in our culture in general and as Christians in particular—is that true and false worship surround us. Idols are everywhere. We are always worshipping something, but it’s rarely the right thing.

Maybe that seems grim, or a bit too broad brush, but hear me out: in our culture as a whole, what are our idols? Celebrity. Sports. Money. Sex. Success… We give ourselves to the pursuit of these things. We work ourselves to death in pursuit of money and power. We devote ourselves to keeping track of the most minute details of the lives of movie stars. We whore ourselves out before the world on “reality” TV.

Before we too quickly give a hearty “amen,” or “Boo to The Bachelor,” let’s also consider the more subtle idols we’ve created in the church. We spend inordinate amounts of time worrying about attendance numbers. And so when lots of people show up, we feel pretty great. When there’s a dip, we feel like something’s wrong in the church. We elevate marriage and children to a place where those who are single feel like they’re second-class Christians, or guilty of some secret sin that not even they’re aware of. And then, there’s the idol that nearly destroyed me and my family: home ownership.

Before our oldest daughter was born, my wife and I worked at decent paying jobs that allowed us to comfortably pay for all our basic needs, our mortgage, plus have a little left over for some fun. When my wife went on maternity leave, money became tighter, but life was pretty manageable. And then we made the decision that Emily should stay home full time. And our income dropped again, down to about $36,000 per year.

And it hurt.

A lot.

While we learned to stretch a dollar pretty far, as our family grew money only got tighter. And, finally, we hit a wall: either we sacrifice our values and Emily goes back to work in order to keep the house, or we sell the house.

We sold the house.

That might sound like it was pretty easy, but it was anything but. During the years between being super-broke and putting up the sold sign, God was at work powerfully, especially through our reading of Scripture. We read Jesus’ words to “be ready for service” in Luke 12:35, and realized we weren’t. Where He was calling us to, we weren’t prepared to follow. And so He continued to work on us, convicting us of our unhealthy attachment to the idea that being a responsible adult meant owning a house. And in the end, we obeyed. Not because we were so great or wise or anything like that. We obeyed because, over the course of several years, the gospel wore us down.

That tends to be how God works on our idols.

The Holy Spirit continually challenges us to apply this command to our hearts. He brings conviction about the things that demand too much of our attention, when we turn good things into ultimate things. But as He brings conviction, He reminds us of the One who is better than any idol, even the really good things we enjoy.

He points us self-deceived, weak and weary people to Jesus. Jesus, the perfect worshipper, the One who never once made something more important than the Father. Who was always prepared to serve, and always obeyed, even to the point of death. This is who we need to run to when we run from our idols, because He’s the only One worth running to.


First published at The Gospel Project, May 2014. Photo credit: Sybren A. Stüvel via photopin cc

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Christians, We Are Repenters

Trevin Wax:

When I was living in Romania and learning the language, one of the first words I encountered was pocăit. Roughly translated, it means “repenter.” It was a derogatory label given to evangelical believers last century. There were cultural “Christians,” and then there were pocăiții – “repenters” who believed an ongoing life of repentance was essential to the Christian life.

As a Baptist, I was one of the repenters. What separated our church from cultural Christianity we came into contact with was our insistence on repentance in response to God’s unmerited favor. In light of God’s grace, we called people to repent of their sins, their self-justification, and devote themselves wholly to Christ.

Idolatry in corporate worship

Bob Kauflin:

What’s your greatest hindrance to worshiping God as you gather with the church for corporate worship?

I can think of a number of possible answers: Our song leader isn’t very experienced. The liturgy is too stifling. The band sounds bad. The preacher is uninspiring. Our church is too small. Or, Our church is too big.

While I don’t want to minimize the importance of faithful planning, musical skill, and wise leadership, our greatest problem when it comes to worshiping God doesn’t lie outside us, but within our own hearts. It’s the problem of idolatry.

Kindle deals for Christian readers

Yesterday I shared a great big list of books. Here are a few new deals:

The Fate of Richard Dawkins

Brendan O’Neill:

Dawkins is forever landing himself in hot water over his tweets. He’s tweeted about how few Nobel Prizes Muslims have won, followed by a barb disguised as a compliment: “They did great things in the Middle Ages, though.” He’s tweeted his bamboozlement as to why the New Statesman employed a practising Muslim as its political editor. His tweets are generously peppered with exclamation marks and CAPITAL LETTERS and hectoring phraseology, making it pretty clear that we are getting a glimpse into his unedited thoughts, into the inner recesses of his mind, into that part of the human brain that has always existed – the bovine, often prejudiced bit – but which until recent times was not given public expression. We are seeing how Dawkins’s mind works prior to his exercise of thought and self-editing, and it isn’t pretty.

Is God a Pluralist?

Derek Rishmawy:

It was in my freshman composition class at the University of California, Irvine, that I first heard a professor say, “Well, you know, most of the differences in religion don’t matter. The main point is that God just wants all is just to love each other, right?” It’s a claim that’s become increasingly familiar to me ever since.

But is it true? Is God indifferent to religion? Does he care how he’s worshiped? In other words, is God a pluralist?

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Re: Mark Driscoll

Jared Wilson:

Pastor Mark, if you’re reading this — you are losing us. Forget about the “haters.” We ain’t them. We are the ones who love you, who want to see you succeed and prevail. And we won’t stop, no matter what tribe you’re in or which conference stage you take. But we want you to take responsibility for your actions and your attitude. It does not commend grace. We want you to walk in repentance. We want you to seek the way of Christ in more humility, to drop the image and the posturing, and remind us of what drew us to you in the first place: the fame of Christ’s name, not the protection of your own. What would the truth of the gospel have you do? What would adorn the gospel? What would make Jesus look big? I believe it would be a reversal of the trajectory of pride you have been on. I’m asking you to turn around and show us why we were so drawn to you in the beginning. I’m asking you to show us Jesus. He has become lost in your shadow.

The Gossip Rag of the Reformed World

Tim Challies:

I had an idea! What if I rebrand this site Reformed People and make it the gossip rag, the tabloid, of the Reformed world? This much is true: I would never run out of people to discuss and evaluate. Just last week I received emails or phone calls concerning at least five open and active people issues, celebrity issues, that I could write about. And those are only the ones I can remember a week later. I won’t rebrand, of course, but the point is, there could be a site dedicated only to gossip and people news that concerns our little corner of the Christian world. Worst of all, I think people might actually read it.

What Must You Leave Behind?

Kevin DeYoung:

What must we leave behind if we are to follow Christ?

The simplest answer is that we must leave behind idolatry. That’s the very first commandment—you shall have no other gods before me. They don’t have to be obvious representations of the divine; they don’t have to be stone or wood or marble. There are all sorts of gods: education, athletics, marriage, choice, power, self-expression, beauty, achievement. Whatever you give your whole life for, there’s your idol.

What If Your Opinion Doesn’t Matter?

Mike Leake:

“Everybody’s opinion is valid,” said the teacher as she parroted the curriculum. It was one of those happy-feely Monday’s where the school was trying to help us love one another, accept differences, and play nice. We likely would have sang Kumbaya if it wasn’t so offensive to the atheists.

One of my wise-cracking friends asked what I thought was a pretty solid question. “What if my opinion is that no other opinion is valid?”

I don’t remember her answer. And I didn’t really care, nor did the kid asking the question. We just wanted to laugh. But I actually think that he had a good point. What if everybody’s opinion really isn’t valid?

What makes a person divisive?

It doesn’t take an in-depth understanding of the New Testament to see an important truth:

God really isn’t pleased with divisive people.

A totally unexpected and mind-blowing truth, I know. In Paul’s day, there were many who were stirring up division and dissension; the super-apostles in Corinth, the Judaizers in Galatia, former ministry colleagues throughout the land who’d abandoned the gospel…

These are some of the examples of overtly divisive people—but you don’t have to be someone who’s openly defying the Lord and proclaiming a false gospel while seeking to destroy God’s people to be divisive.

Being divisive is a lot easier than you think. In fact, you might be a divisive person and not even realize it.

All it takes is a little bit of pride.

My wife and I both love to be right. And it’s usually over the most trivial matters. In our efforts to help ourselves recognize our behavior, we’ve given it a title: being the rightest person in the room. It’s a silly term, but it helps snap us back to reality when we’re getting ridiculous.

Imagine, though, if we didn’t do this. Our meaningless debates would escalate into a serious conflict eventually. We’d dig our heels in, refuse to give ground and, sooner or later, say something we’d regret.

That’s why we need safety measures in our lives. We need silly names to defuse our own goofiness. We need people who can call us on our guff and tell us to chill out.

This is what I’ve seen people desperately needing in the recent Driscoll ballyhoo, on both sides. The folks who are looking to lynch him need to look at themselves for a second. It’s not that the idolatry of celebrity isn’t a crucial issue (it is), but what does the response of many say about the state of their own hearts?

Remember the behavior Paul charged Titus to teach: “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (Titus 3:2). Does the delight some seem to take in thrashing this particular person online reflect this kind of attitude? Worse, do they think it’s really going to help him be responsive to legitimate concern and attempts at correction?

When you look at a guy like Driscoll, it’s not hard to make a case that he’s a divisive figure. In fact, he absolutely is that guy and should be held appropriately accountable.

But we also need to be careful, because, really—are the rest of us any better?

There’s a certain extent to which we’re all that guy.

The difference is, we just don’t get as much airtime, and it’s but by the grace of God that we are not also being torn apart by people who, arguably, care little to nothing for us as people. Who don’t necessarily want us to get better, but just don’t want us to have a voice anymore.

But we ought to remember that, as Paul says, all of God’s people “were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). This is what God rescues us from. Why sink back into that kind of divisiveness?

The Greatest Gifts Can Become Deadly Substitutes for God

The greatest enemy of hunger for God is not poison but apple pie. It is not the banquet of the wicked that dulls our appetite for heaven, but endless nibbling at the table of the world. It is not the X-rated video, but the prime-time dribble of triviality we drink in every night. For all the ill that Satan can do, when God describes what keeps us from the banquet table of his love, it is a piece of land, a yoke of oxen, and a wife (Luke 14:18–20). The greatest adversary of love to God is not his enemies but his gifts. And the most deadly appetites are not for the poison of evil, but for the simple pleasures of earth. For when these replace an appetite for God himself, the idolatry is scarcely recognizable, and almost incurable.

Jesus said some people hear the word of God, and a desire for God is awakened in their hearts. But then, “as they go on their way they are choked with worries and riches and pleasures of this life” (Luke 8:14). In another place he said, “The desires for other things enter in and choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful” (Mark 4:19). “The pleasures of this life” and “the desires for other things”—these are not evil in themselves. These are not vices. These are gifts of God. They are your basic meat and potatoes and coffee and gardening and reading and decorating and traveling and investing and TV-watching and Internet-surfing and shopping and exercising and collecting and talking. And all of them can become deadly substitutes for God.

John Piper, A Hunger for God: Desiring God through Fasting and Prayer, 14-15.

HT: Adrian Warnock

Ministry Idolatry

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During the Advance conference several years ago, Mark Driscoll spoke on the issue of ministry idolatry. During his session, he asked the audience to consider eleven forms this idolatry can take:

  1. Attendance idolatry: Does your joy change when your attendance does?
  2. Gift idolatry: Do you feel that God needs you and uses you because you are so skilled?
  3. Truth idolatry: Do you consider yourself more righteous than more simple Christians?
  4. Fruit idolatry: Do you point to your success as evidence of God’s approval of you?
  5. Method idolatry: Do you worship your method as your mediator?
  6. Tradition idolatry: What traditions are you upholding that are thwarting the forward progress of the gospel?
  7. Office idolatry: Are you motivated primarily by God’s glory or your title?
  8. Success idolatry: Is winning what motivates you at the deepest level?
  9. Ministry idolatry: Do you use the pressure of ministry to make you walk with God?
  10. Innovative idolatry: Does it matter to you that your ministry be considered unique?
  11. Leader idolatry: Who, other than Christ, are you imaging?

Looking back on this message in light of how Driscoll’s ministry has unfolded, I can’t help but think they represent an irony: A good warning unheeded by its messenger. He knew the dangers that faced him, clearly. And yet, based on what we see taking place before us, he either lacked self-awareness or voices willing to lovingly warn him with his own words.

Now, whether he does (or has) truly heard and repented, only the Lord can say, and time will tell. But whatever happens, reflecting on these questions should remind us to not view any church leader who falls in a “Lord, thank you I am not like that guy,” sort of way. Instead, they should make us consider how each of us would respond if our friends or we were to fall prey to our own weakness.

If a friend falls, will we encourage people to pray for him and his family (which is right to do), as well as to pray for those he’s wronged (which is equally right and necessary, as Matt Redmond has reminded us)? This is hard in some ways, because it requires us to challenge the idol of our preconceived notions and also the idol of “credibility” (and the danger, again, as Redmond has pointed out, is when we fail to speak out about glaring abuses we actually lose that which we sought to keep).

But were we to fall, would we desperately cling to what we believed made us successful, pointing to the apparent fruit of our ministry, even as it all falls apart? Or would we let it go, repenting of our sin and looking to Jesus as something greater than any success we might have had?

For me, perhaps because I’ve not had much success from many perspectives—my books aren’t bestsellers, my blog doesn’t pull in hundreds of thousands of readers each month and I rarely  preach at a church with more than 50 people in attendance—it’s pretty easy to hold the idea of success loosely. At least right now. And even as I try to figure out what to say next, I keep coming back to this: I really have no idea how I would respond. I don’t know what I’m blind to about myself.

Are any of us any different?


Note: this post was fully re-written in September 2014.

Sermon Audio: True and False Worship

On Sunday, July 11th, I once again had the opportunity to preach at Poplar Hill Christian Church in Poplar Hill, Ontario. The message is from Romans 1:18-25, True and False Worship.

The abbreviated transcript follows for those who need/prefer:

The last time I was here, I spoke on obedience and how obedience—to God’s Word, for His Glory—is the evidence of the Christian life. That message has weighed heavily on me since I was last here and as I’ve examined my own life in light of it, I’ve been left with a question: If obedience is the evidence of what we worship, who or what am I worshipping? Is it God or something else?

What we’re going to discover together is this:

Because God is the only One worthy of our praise, we must examine our lives and discover who or what we truly worship.

Turn with me to Romans chapter 1; this is where we’re going to be spending the bulk of our time today.

Starting in verse eighteen:

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 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.

[Opening Prayer]

We are all Worshippers

At the end of June, I went to Honduras with Compassion Canada. We saw the projects at work, visited homes, played with kids, and it was amazing. While we were there, we also had the opportunity to visit the Copan Ruins and the remnants of the Mayan temples.

Our tour guide took us through the ruins, teaching us about the culture of the Mayans as we went. There were idols everywhere.

Images of iguanas symbolizing fertility; macaw birds representing their sun god… It was everywhere. But the thing that stood out to me the most was listening to him describe the after parties from a sports event.

Basically what would happen is that athletes would compete against each other, passing the ball around with the goal of hitting one of the six stone macaw heads on the sidelines of the court. And you had to do it without using your hands.

These games were a big deal—the religious leaders, the chieftains and all the people would fill the stadium. Now, after the game was won and a winner was proclaimed, there’d be a celebration in his honor.

Can you guess the prize for the winner? Sacrificed to the gods.

Doesn’t really make you want to win the game, does it?

Human sacrifice was all too common in this area of Honduras. People would throw themselves off the cliffs into the temple courts as a sacrifice, hoping to appease the gods.

As I learned about the culture, as impressive as the architecture is and as breathtaking as the ruins are, I was disgusted by the idolatry.

I started thinking about our own culture… is it really that different?

Sure, we don’t (normally) worship birds or practice human sacrifice as a reward for a game well-played; but as I’ve been looking around since I came home, one inescapable truth has become more apparent than ever:

We are all worshippers.

This is the way God has made us.

He’s not made us to worship, or to be worshippers; He’s made us worshipping.

Harold Best in his book Unceasing Worship describes it this way:

We were created continuously outpouring. Note that I did not say we were created to be continuous outpourers. Nor can I dare imply that we were created to worship. This would suggest that God is an incomplete person whose need for something outside himself (worship) completes his sense of himself. It might not even be safe to say that we were created for worship, because the inference can be drawn that worship is a capacity that can be separated out and eventually relegated to one of several categories of being. I believe it is strategically important, therefore, to say that we were created continuously outpouring—we were created in that condition, at that instant, imago Dei.

What Best is telling us is that our identity as worshippers is tied to God’s nature and our being created in His image.

Back in Genesis 1, we’re told that in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was formless and void and the Spirit of God hovered over the depths.

So in the beginning, there was God.

And that’s it.

Some will speculate that God created the world and humanity because He was lonely. He needed something to pour out His love upon. But that’s not what Scripture says. The Bible says that God lacks nothing. If he lacked, then He would cease to be God.

This is where the doctrine of the Trinity is so important. Because God is one God in three persons—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—He lives in perfect, eternal, joyful, community, unceasingly outpouring His love on Himself.

And we were created out of an overflow of this, not of need, but out of joy to share His glory with others. And because we were created in His image, we do likewise—unceasingly worshipping, intended to reflect His glory in all creation.

Paul understands this. That’s why he doesn’t say, “In the past, some of you didn’t worship anything at all.” He says, “All of you have worshipped created things instead of the Creator.”

We are all always worshipping something. And more often than not, it’s not our Creator.

Our Lives Show Us Who We Worship

We’re continuously worshipping, but there’s something else we need to understand:

Our lives show us who we worship.

The hard thing for all of us is discovering what it is we worship—why? Because we’re blind to it. We’re blind to it because we have, as Paul wrote, exchanged the truth about God for a lie.

We’ve made created things—sometimes good things—our god, worshipping them instead of our Creator.

Let me give you a couple of practical examples:

Every day, men and women across the country congregate in one of the dozens of temples that are on nearly every street corner in Canada to worship as we roll up a rim.

This past winter, we had the Olympics; do you remember the fervor that surrounded Men’s Hockey?

How about the last few weeks with the World Cup going on?

And what about all the silliness with Lebron James and Chris Bosch joining the Miami Heat?

I know a few people who were cussing out Bosch, but James… They were burning his jersey in Cleveland this week!

Why?

Because the god they worshipped had let them down.

He left to play for a different team.

And the idol was crushed.

We are all worshippers; we’re always worshipping something—and our lives will reveal who or what we worship.

Maybe there’s something coming to your mind right now—your job, your spouse, your kids, your car, your computer, candy…

We think that these things will make us happy. That they’ll satisfy and save us. But anything but God will always fail.

But we don’t believe it. We don’t believe it because we’ve exchanged the truth for a lie.

False Worship Suppresses the Truth

“The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth,” writes Paul in verse 18.

When we sin, when we behave in a manner contrary to God’s commands and His character, we “suppress the truth” about God.

False worship suppresses the truth.

When we put anything in place of God in our lives, we suppress the truth.

This is a damning indictment!

To suppress the truth about God—to deny His authority, His majesty, His power—is to commit an act of cosmic treason.

Why? Here’s what Paul says on this. “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

Do you realize that every day, the evidence of God’s existence and His power are manifest? What can be known about God is plain to us because God has shown it to us.

Where does He show it?

In all of creation.

This is what the theologians call general revelation. That is, that we can know that there is a God and we can know something of who He is through natural means.

Speaking to this point, Acts 14:17 says,

 

[H]e [God] did not leave himself without witness, for he did good by giving you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your hearts with food and gladness.”

What we see here is that God gives us rain and allows our crops to grow, and our livestock to thrive, in a display of His power and character. He “satisfies our hearts with food and gladness.”

In short, a great steak can bear witness to God’s existence.

And in Acts 17:24-27 we read,

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him…”

Practically, this means for us that everything—science, art, music, nature… everything reveals God’s eternal power and divine nature to the degree that we cannot with integrity deny God’s existence.

We are, Paul says, without excuse in acknowledging Him.

But consistently we fail to do exactly that. Instead, we suppress the truth about God in our unrighteousness.

False worship makes us fools

Verse 21:

For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.

What Paul says here is that we have failed to honor God, to acknowledge and worship Him. In our sin, we have suppressed the truth about God.

And because we’ve suppressed the truth, we have come futile in our thinking. “[Our] foolish hearts [are] darkened.”

This is idolatry’s second effect:

When we fail to honor God, we become fools bent on stealing His glory.

When we refuse to honor God or give thanks to Him, we become fools, says Paul. In other words: Idolatry is stupid.

The prophet Isaiah communicated this well when he wrote,

The ironsmith takes a cutting tool and works it over the coals. He fashions it with hammers and works it with his strong arm. He becomes hungry, and his strength fails; he drinks no water and is faint. The carpenter stretches a line; he marks it out with a pencil. He shapes it with planes and marks it with a compass. He shapes it into the figure of a man, with the beauty of a man, to dwell in a house. He cuts down cedars, or he chooses a cypress tree or an oak and lets it grow strong among the trees of the forest. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. Then it becomes fuel for a man. He takes a part of it and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Also he makes a god and worships it; he makes it an idol and falls down before it. Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, “Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!” And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, “Deliver me, for you are my god!”

So basically, a man cuts down a tree—and one half he uses for firewood. The other he worships. We rob God of His glory… and give it to a piece of kindling.

Does that even make sense?

In our foolishness we start to think that God doesn’t really see what we’re doing. That because our false god doesn’t speak or think or see or hear, we’re in the clear.

But, Isaiah 47:10 says, God always knows:

You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”

Paul writes that as those who suppressed the truth claimed 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.”

Again, it comes back to the truth that we are without excuse for acknowledging our Creator.

It’s why the “new atheism” movement is so bizarre. The whole point of books by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and several others is basically to say this:

There is no God… And I hate Him.

It’s intellectually dishonest. How can you hate someone you don’t believe exists?

If God doesn’t exist, shouldn’t you not care?

Instead, what do we see?

Dozens of books, documentaries and magazine articles attempting to debunk the idea of God… and in particular the God of the Bible.

Why? Why is so much energy spent debunking Christianity?

Why do we see more books trying to do this entering the bestseller lists every year?

Why is there such a need to find the gospel—that God the Son, Jesus Christ, became a man, lived the perfect life, died in our place for our sins and rose again to give us new life and reconcile us to God the Father—to be a sham?

Because deep down, we all know it’s true. We all know He’s real.

And it terrifies us.

Because we stand naked before Him—and without His intervention, we—have—no—hope.

Here’s the thing: Every other religion, every other belief system, in the end, revolves around the same thing—You.

It’s all about what you do, about how you must earn your way into God’s favor, how you must become one with the divine or with the universe. All is one. God is a part of the system or God doesn’t exist.

But if all is one, God is none.

It’s the lie that we’ve exchanged the truth for. It’s a foolish act meant to rob God of His glory.

It’s the serpent’s lie from Genesis three: “When you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

Understand—Buddha, Krishna, Allah… There is no hope. There is no life. They have no power.

But Jesus Christ does.

That’s why the gospel is so offensive—it’s not about what we do, it’s about what Jesus HAS already done!

He saved us when we could not save ourselves! He took the punishment that we so richly deserved.

And we show ourselves to be fools when we deny His power, authority and majesty—when we rob Him of His glory and deny Him the worship that is His due.

And it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.

False Worship Reveals of the Wrath of God

Going back to verse eighteen, we read, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men…”

All of what we’ve just talked about—that we continually worshipping, that in our rebellion against God we’ve suppressed the truth and exchanged His glory for created things—Because of all these things, the wrath of God is revealed from heaven.

When we talk about wrath, we have to understand that there are two basic kinds that we’re talking about.

The first is God’s active wrath.

Active wrath is a tangible demonstration of God’s judgment over sinners.

When we read of the conquest of the Promised Land and the command to kill ALL the Canaanites—that was the active wrath of God.

When Ananias and Sapphira dropped dead because they lied about how much they were giving in Acts 5—THAT was the active wrath of God.

When we look toward the Day of the Lord when He will execute final judgment on all of creation—THAT is the active wrath of God…

God’s active wrath is offensive to so many people; it’s the cause of ideas about there being two different kinds of God depicted in the Bible—the hot-tempered God of the Old Testament and gentle Jesus, meek and mild. The reason for this is that we have difficulty understanding God’s perfect justice and holiness.

But there’s something even more terrifying than God’s active wrath, as we’re about to see. Listen to what Paul says in verse 24:

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.

What Paul describes here is the passive wrath of God.

What this means is that we’re so bent on our sin—we’re consumed with doing what we want, rather than obeying Him—God says, “Okay, go get’em tiger.”

He gives us over to a “debased” or depraved mind says in verse 28. Second Thessalonians 2:11 says that, “God sends a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false.”

And truth be told, there’s little more terrifying to me than this.

If God’s passive wrath is upon me, it means He’s letting me do what I want. It means my conscience has become so hard that I don’t want to respond.

Because I love my sin.

I want my idols.

And God says, “Have at it.”

Before God sent the flood in one of the most magnificent displays of His active wrath, He looked down at all of creation and “saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.”

Man was given over to a depraved mind. The passive wrath of God was upon Him.

And the active wrath was coming.

We Must Recover True Worship

Verse 25 says that we’ve exchanged the truth about God for a lie, worshiping and serving created things rather than the Creator.

In order for us to be saved we must recover true worship.

Left to our own devices, we’re utterly incapable of doing this.

Fortunately, God has made a way for us.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

That, friends, is the secret. That is how we are able to recover true worship:

We must apply the gospel to our worship.

Because of Christ’s death on the cross, our sins are paid for when we put our faith in Him. Elsewhere, Scripture says that we are made new creations in Christ—and because it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us, we are given new desires to serve Him and worship Him as He deserves.

We must apply the gospel to our worship. And that begins with repentance.

Why is repentance important?

Repentance is the heart of the Christian life. The first of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which ultimately resulted in the explosion of the Protestant Reformation, says, “All of life is one of repentance.” Repentance is not a one and done action—it’s a lifestyle.

A Christian cannot live an unrepentant life. Dr. J.I. Packer, one of the most brilliant theologians of the last 100 years has been quoted as saying, “All you need to do to become a heretic is to stop repenting or fail to call others to repentance.” It’s become contentious to call anyone to repentance in our day, even on issues where Scripture is clear—be it sexuality, gossip, gluttony, slander, malice… but here’s the thing: whenever we come up against one of these issues, we have to remember what the real question is—it’s not, “can one be a homosexual, an adulterer, a liar, a gossip, and be a Christian?” The question is—Can one be unrepentant and be a Christian?

Repentance is a process. Repentance isn’t being sorry that we got caught, or feeling bad or even acknowledging our sins. It’s much deeper.

  • Repentance begins with conviction from the Holy Spirit. Our sin is revealed to us through prayer, through our conscience, through Scripture or through the preaching of God’s Word.
  • Conviction leads to confession—we name our sin and agree with God, acknowledging our idol.
  • Confession leads to true repentance—it demands the death of our idols, which comes as we rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.
  • This leads to restitution—we seek to make right whatever we’ve done wrong in our pursuit of our idols. So if we’ve cheated on our taxes, we put it right. If we’ve stolen from work, we return it. If we’ve broken something, we replace it
  • The final step is reconciliation. Repentance—true repentance—restores relationships with God first and foremost and other people as we are able.

Repentance allows us to worship in freedom. Through repentance, we are no longer slaves to our idols, but free to worship God as He would have us—to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice,” as Paul wrote in Romans 12:1. As we trust God, study His Word, obey Him and worship Him, we are “no longer conformed to this patterns of this world, but transformed by the renewal of our minds.” Our desires change. Our attitudes change. Our habits change. All to the glory of God.

A few questions and we’ll close:

  1. What idols exist in my life?
  2. What created thing is robbing God of His glory?
  3. If that thing is revealed to me, will I repent?
  4. Will I take that first step today?

[Closing Prayer]

Truth and Lies: Mark Driscoll – Pastoral Care and One-ism

Mark Driscoll’s final session focused on how One-ism and idolatry’s effect on pastoral care. In this session, Driscoll offered five steps to pastoral care.

1. Uncover the Enslaving Idol

“Traditional counseling starts and stops at the level of behavior. [It’s] behavior modification instead of transformation,” says Driscoll.

Under all sin is idolatry, according to 2 Pet. 2:19. There is no freedom in sin. “Sin is simply choosing you master, but it’s not freedom.”

Addiction is the secular language for the biblical language of slavery. Those who commit adultery worship and are slaves to sex. Sluggards worship and are enslaved to comfort. Those who are proud worship and are enslaved to themselves. Gamblers worship and are enslaved to luck, which is the name of an ancient Greek god…

“We worship our way into idolatry and must worship our way out,” says Driscoll. “Martin Luther said, ‘If your heart cleaves to anything else… you have another God.’ You can have ‘a state of God’ rather than a real God. And when you face adversity, it’s where you go.”

2. Find the Demonic Lie

Jesus says that Satan is a liar and he is the father of lies. “Idols promise good, but they deceive,” says Driscoll.

[Your job says] ‘If you worship me, I’ll make you successful.’ So you worship your job. [Your hobbies and shopping say] ‘If you worship me I’ll make you happy.’ So you pour yourself into the recreational activity, buy the shoes, buy the car.

The lie says it will bring you closer to God. “If you sing these songs; go to this school; go to this church; read these books…  All these can become false saviors.”

Another is, “You need to be true to yourself.”  Driscoll comments, “While we should be authentic, sometimes we need to repent of being true to ourselves and be true to Jesus.”

You need to love yourself is another lie. But this, says Driscoll, is simply the cult of self-esteem. [Read more...]

Truth and Lies: Mark Driscoll – One-ism in Culture

In his first lecture, Mark Driscoll addressed how we are created to reflect, mirror and image God, but through our sin, we have a proclivity to, rather than reflect God, fall into one of two idolatrous options.

The first is that we worship ourselves. “This is, perhaps best evidenced by Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In his hierarchy, Maslow says that our greatest need is self-actualization,” says Driscoll.

Our second option is to we worship other people. This accounts for rise of celebrity culture.

Radio personality Dr. Drew Pinsky has come across this condition that people are suffering from the effects of mirroring other people. We no longer have role models, we have celebrities.

What we need, Driscoll argues, are role models. People would live an exemplary life, a model life, and we would imitate them (cf. Hebrews 13). You don’t worship them, but you learn from them how to be a better mirror. (As an aside, Driscoll is impressed that in God’s common grace and general revelation, the non-Christian radio host can identify the same problem that Scripture reveals, even if his solutions are different.)

“Today we have celebrities. They’re not role models. They’re infamous for bad behavior. But they haven’t done anything,” says Driscoll. “‘The only way to become a celebrity is to do something extreme,’ says Dr. Drew in The Mirror Effect. There’s a cultural appetite for more extreme examples.” [Read more...]

Truth and Lies: Mark Driscoll – One-ism vs Two-ism

Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church is borderline infamous. His blunt and sometimes brash style of expository preaching has made his sermon feeds one of the top of the iTunes charts—and made him the internet’s piñata.

As the co-host of The Exchange, Driscoll covered the topic of one-ism vs. two-ism, primarily focusing on the realm of popular culture over two sessions, with his third session devoted how one-ism affects pastoral care. This post relates the big ideas of the first session (although I unfortunately missed the first half of session one due to a meeting).

Driscoll focused primarily on what it means to be a worshipper, and simply that we are all worshippers all the time. It’s what we’re created for—and also what we were created as.

We were created to reflect, mirror, image God in creation, says Driscoll. However, through sin, we have a proclivity to worship created things rather than our Creator God.

This is most apparent today in our “sacred culture,” the marks of which are:

  1. The myths that define life
  2. Community
  3. Sacred ritual

These aspects show up in most every area of our lives.

Music. We follow our favorite bands; we sing their songs, we buy all their records. When they make a bad one, we’re in music hell. Concerts are worship events.

Sports. We worship teams, dress up like our favorite athletes by wearing the same jersey and number. Our worship activities start up a few blocks away as we walk to the stadium and talk about what’s going to happen. “People won’t even drive to your church, but they’ll walk to the ball park,” says Driscoll. There are sacred spaces, such as “the hallowed ground of old Yankee Stadium.” If your team is winning, you’re in heaven. If it’s losing, you’re in hell. [Read more...]

The Default Mode of the Human Heart

A thought-provoking clip from Mark Driscoll’s recent sermon Jesus the Sabbath Lord:

At Mars Hill, I wrote this down, I think the campuses that are most susceptible to religion and to legalism are the Federal Way Campus, the Olympia Campus, the West Seattle Campus, the Bellevue Campus, the Lake City Campus, the Shoreline Campus, and the Albuquerque Campus ‘cause it’s steeped, that whole city is, in Catholicism. I’ll go on record and say it. Legalism and religion are real threats to the health and well-being of those campuses.

Now for Ballard, Downtown, and the UW Campuses, the real threat and risk is reverse legalism. “Oh, they don’t drink? We’re gonna drink. Oh, they don’t smoke? We’ll smoke a pack a day to show our freedom in Christ.” Right? “Oh, they tithe, we’re not gonna tithe. That’s how free in Christ we are. Oh, they serve, well, we’re not any of that kind of works theology, we have a nap theology. We sleep like Calvinists. We don’t do anything, Jesus said, ‘It’s finished.’ So we’re done. Oh, they read their Bible every day, oh, that’s a lot.

Yeah, we don’t have a list like that, yeah, we’re not legalists. We don’t read the Bible at all. Don’t want to get all religious, read a book or pray or serve or care or give. We’re free in Christ. Anybody see my pants? I go to the Ballard campus,” right? We can be total reverse legalists. “Oh, that church doesn’t use instruments, we got a punk band, yee-haw, thank you, Jesus,” right?

And we can just be reverse legalists, and we could appoint ourselves as judges. We could judge all the religious people, and we could condemn them, and we could feel holier than they are because they’re trying so hard, and we don’t do anything. [Read more...]

Book Review: Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller

Title: Counterfeit Gods
Author: Timothy Keller
Publisher: Dutton

In recent years Tim Keller, the pastor of Redeemer Presbyterian in New York City, has become quite a prolific author. And his latest offering may be his most important book yet.

Counterfeit Gods explores the empty promises by the idols found in the human heart—sex, money, power, pride—and our only hope of experiencing true satisfaction and fulfillment in the gospel.

Making Gods

“[An idol] is anything more important to you than God, anything that absorbs your heart and imagination more than God, anything you seek to give you what only God can give,” writes Keller (p. xvii). It’s a broad definition, but fitting. As Keller rightly says, “Anything in life can serve as an idol, a God-alternative, a counterfeit god” (p. xvi).

It’s easy for us to think about idols as being statues in a temple somewhere “over there” (wherever that is). But if it’s true that anything can be an idol, it’s not nearly so simple. “The biblical concept of idolatry is an extremely sophisticated idea, integrating intellectual, psychological, social, cultural, and spiritual categories.” (p. xix). Romantic love, sex, physical beauty, moral virtue, intellectual ideologies, profit, self-expression… “There are idols everywhere” (p. xxi).

They are the things we love, trust and obey, even at the expense of our relationship with Jesus. “Idols dominate our lives,” says Keller.

Throughout the book, Keller illustrates the insidiousness of idolatry through the biblical accounts of Abraham, Jacob, Zacchaeus, Naaman, Nebudchadnezzar and Jonah. The lives of each show us a pattern of idolatry: For Abraham, his son Isaac had the potential to be a powerful idol; for Jacob, his grandson, it was love as illustrated by his obsession with Rachel and behavior reminiscent of an addict. For Zacchaeus, it was money. For Naaman, success; Nebudchadnezzar, glory & power. And Jonah—well, his idols were perhaps the most complex of all. [Read more...]

Around the Interweb (03/07)

Blaspheme Your Idols

Jared Wilson shares an excerpt from his next book, currently in progress:

A bride joined to her groom forsakes all others. She writes the spiritual equivalent of Dear John letters to her idols. When God’s love captivates you, you go around spurning all your other lovers. I call this “blaspheming” your idols.

Blaspheme them. Tell them they have no appeal to you any more. Tell them you don’t need their damage, their pain, their anti-glories. Tell them you have no desires to use and abuse them any more. Tell them your heart, mind, soul, and strength belong wholly to God now. And then don’t speak as a lover to them ever again. Sinful relationships must end.

Read the whole thing. It’s well worth it.

In other news

TWO free audiobooks this month at ChristianAudio.comThe Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer (code: MAR2010) and Fifty Reasons why Jesus Came to Die by John Piper (code: MAR2010B). Enjoy!

The New Possibilities in Book Publishing and the Implications of New Media

Would you “Friend” the Apostle Paul?

2010 Band of Bloggers: Internet Idolatry & Gospel Fidelity

Timmy Brister has announced the details of the 4th Band of Bloggers fellowship that will take place in conjunction with the 2010 Together for the Gospel Conference in Louisville, Kentucky.

The theme for this year’s meeting is “Internet Idolatry and Gospel Fidelity.” With the advent of new media and the increasing influence of technology on our lives, it is important to address the relationship of the gospel to technology, especially the areas where we are tempted with idolatrous desire (power, identity, influence, acceptance, control, etc.).  While the internet, with all of its platforms (such as blogging, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be a powerful tool to leverage our lives for the gospel impact, we want to examine our hearts to bring to light the various ways in which the idol factory of our hearts challenges and subverts the very gospel which we long to embrace.

Go to the Band of Bloggers website for more info and to register.

In Case You Missed It

Here are a few of this week’s notable posts:

A review of Tass Saada’s Once an Arafat Man

Jude: Contending for our Common Salvation

How to Build a God

Spurgeon on the fruit of humility

B.B. Warfield reminds us that we can’t move beyond the gospel