A Dead Guy’s Take on Idol Smashing

expulsive powerIn our Resolving Everyday Conflict class last Sunday, the video lesson made mention of a helpful resource for ridding ourselves of the idols that often lie at the root of our conflicts.

I promised I would post a link to the sermon manuscript by Thomas Chalmers entitled “The Expulsive Power of a New Affection.” A bit long and dense, perhaps requiring more than one reading, it is well worth the time and effort.

Here is how Amazon summarizes the treatise:

Dr. Chalmers states that “It is seldom that any of our tastes are made to disappear by a mere process of natural extinction,” and “the heart must have something to cling to—and never, by its own voluntary consent, will it so denude itself of all its attachments.” Therefore the superior affection for God through the free Gospel of Christ is necessary to displace worldly affections. This sermon, written by one of the foremost minds of his day, has become seminal for modern thought.

Check it out and happy idol smashing.

Beware of Christmas Idols

Christmas idolatry

John finishes his first epistle with this practical exhortation: Little children, keep yourselves from idols. The holiday season brings its own unique challenges in this regard. If John wrote to us in our time and culture regarding Christmas and its false god’s pitfalls I suspect he might specify at least the following.

Keep yourself from the idol of possessions. Consumerism tops the list of things that can tempt us to seek our satisfaction in something other than Jesus. The Lord made it plain. We can’t serve God and money (Matt. 6:24). Determine to keep your spending in line with God’s plan for your stewardship.

Keep yourself from the idol of comfort. People often suffer from forms of depression at this time of year. Blocked goals, unmet expectations, pangs of loss, among other things, can tempt us to seek refuge in any number of counterfeit gods. Over indulging in food and drink, endless hours in front of the TV or surfing the internet, substance abuse, relational dependence, these and other strategies of self-medicating and escape have their root ultimately in digging broken wells rather than drinking from the fountain of living waters (Jer. 2:13). Take refuge in the Rock that never runs dry.

Keep yourself from the idol of control. Whether the circumstances surrounding idealistic plans for Christmas and New Years or the people in our lives with whom we engage in this season – family, significant others, friends, and acquaintances – who may or may not cooperate with our agendas — exerting power by way of manipulation, guilt, threat, passive aggressiveness or any other sinful strategy designed to make others comply with our demands boils down to a dependence upon things outside our control that fail to deliver the happiness we invest in them. Let a “rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks” (1 Thess. 5:16-18) ethic rule your spirit at every turn of events that doesn’t go the way you hoped.

Keep yourselves this Christmas from the counterfeit gods that tempt you through the power of the living God made yours by your union with Christ through the Holy Spirit.

Dealing with Your Earthly Dearest

Another OGC couple made the marital plunge this past weekend. I actually got the family name right this time around. With their “I do’s” Danny and Beth became even more than they already are each other’s earthly dearest.

How are they/we to keep from allowing our earthly dearest to outstrip our affections for our heavenly dearest? The words of C. S. Lewis give helpful counsel:

When I have learnt to love God better than my earthly dearest, I shall love my earthly dearest better than I do now. Insofar as I learn to love my earthly dearest at the expense of God and instead of God, I shall not love my earthly dearest at all. When first things are put first, second things are not suppressed but increased.

Pray to God for grace to put first things first that second things be not suppressed but increased.

Why Don't You Hate God?

Someone actually put that question to me not long ago. Why don’t you hate God?

Granted, he had his own anger issues, by his own admission. It never ceases to amaze me how rage can grip the human heart so as to strangle superior affections.

He posed the question in light of my head and neck cancer battle back in 2005. I didn’t recall the occasion, but he told me he actually saw me curled up in a fetal position on my family room couch suffering from the effects of treatment, balancing precariously between life and death. Somehow, and I hurt for him on this, he couldn’t imagine that somehow I would feel anything towards God after such suffering than outright hatred.

I paused. It was a legitimate question. Of all the things I said to him to try and redeem pastorally the opportunity presented before me, I simply said, “Jesus was enough.”

I also quoted Psalm 73:25-26.

Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
Have you ever heard someone say, “As long as you have your health, you have everything?” I have. Among the things people tend to idolize, good health ranks near the top of the list along with lovers, wealth, power, and no doubt a few other so-called messiahs. I learned in 2005 that health makes a lousy functional savior. Cancer taught me, among other things, as long as you have Jesus, you have everything. And that’s why I don’t hate God.

One Cure for My Justification By Ministry Syndrome

Truth is I need multiple cures for this disease. Most if not all pastors struggle with it. It evidences itself in a tendency to validate one’s existence by perceived success in the gospel work.

It shows up a lot on Sunday mornings. We can measure it by how we feel about attendance at our services. High numbers in the house, doing OK. Low numbers, not so OK. Strong offering, sweet. Weak offering, bitter. Lots of sermon compliments out the door, flying high. Little to no “at ta boys,” or worse yet, critical comments, laid low.

In the Lord’s faithfulness to contribute further to the eradication of this affliction, He has added a new wrinkle to my life. It’s called your-new-building-won’t-be-ready-for-Easter-opening disappointment. A number of folks have asked me how I am handling the setback of the revised timetable.

My answer remains the same. It’s not wise to complain about answers to prayer. What I mean is this. I/we have prayed since the outset of the project that we wouldn’t allow the building which is a good thing to become a god thing which would make it a bad thing. In other words, we don’t want to turn the whole deal into an idol.

In my experience the most effective way God tests my heart for revealing something I delight in more than Him is to take it away from me or keep me from it. I figure having to wait for this blessing and especially not capitalizing on Easter for outreach purposes that might result in a full building (maybe even two services) and the perception of success are just, among other things, another way that Jesus wants to keep me far afield of the justification by ministry syndrome. He has answered my prayer in not letting the building become an idol. Best not to complain.

So, I am content. I think. Yes, I am pretty sure, it’s OK. God is in control. We’ll get the CO when we are supposed to get it and we’ll open the building when we are supposed to open it. Then I will have a whole bunch of other temptations no doubt to justification by ministry syndrome. Lord, have mercy.

Fortunately I know the one Physician with healing power and His prescription for keeping the perilous condition at bay, the gospel. There is hope even for me and my perpetual idol-making factory of a heart.

Tim Keller, in an interview addressing idolatry in pastors, said it well:

When you find yourself unusually discouraged because things aren’t growing or people aren’t listening to you — you have to catch yourself. You have to realize ‘This is an inordinate amount of discouragement, which reveals the idolatry of justification by ministry.’ Meaning, you say you believe in justification by grace, but you feel like and are acting like you believe in justification by ministry. You have to recognize you are making something of an idol out of ministry. When you do experience inordinate discouragement because things aren’t going well, you need to say, ‘It’s okay to be discouraged but not to be this discouraged. This is discouragement that leads to idolatry,’ and you repent.

To read the rest of what he had to say click here.

Are you trusting in anything or anyone other than Jesus for your justification?

You can bet your life as a child of God He will find ways to pry your fingers loose from whatever it is so that you more thoroughly cling to Jesus for His glory and your joy.

Hallelujah, what a Savior!

He Brooks No Rival

I admit it.

Working through this quarter’s edition of Free Grace Broadcaster on the topic of self-denial has left its share of bruises and wounds on my experience.

For example, consider this paragraph from one of the articles by Charles Spurgeon entitled Family or Christ?:

What, then, is the expense [of following Christ]?…The answer is given by our Savior, not by me. I should not have dared to invent such tests as He has ordained. It is for me to be the echo of His voice and no more. What does He say? Why, first, that if you would be His and have His salvation, you must love Him beyond every other person in this world. Is not that the meaning of this expression, “If any man come to me and hate not his father and mother”? Dear names! Dear names! “Father and mother!” Lives there a man with soul so dead that he can pronounce either of these words without emotion, and especially the last— “mother”? Men and brethren, this is a dear and tender name to us, it touches a chord that thrills our being. Yet far more powerful is the name of Savior, the name of Jesus. Less loved must father and mother be than Jesus Christ. The Lord demands precedence also of the best beloved “wife.” Here He touches another set of heartstrings. Dear is that word wife—partner of our being, comfort of our sorrow, delight of our eyes—“wife!” Yet, Wife, thou must not take the chief place, thou must sit at Jesus’ feet, or else thou art an idol; and Jesus will not brook thy rivalry. And “children,” the dear babes that nestle in the bosom, clamber to the knee, and pronounce the parent’s name in accents of music—they must not be our chief love. They must not come in between the Savior and us. Nor for their sakes—to give them pleasure or to promote their worldly advantage—must we grieve our Lord…If they tempt us to evil, they must be treated as if we hated them! Yea, the evil in them must be hated for Christ’s sake. If ye be Christ’s disciples, your Lord must be first, then father, mother, wife, children, brethren, and sisters will follow in due rank and order.

To read the entire article click here.

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Freeloader Friday

Today is this pastor’s high holy day off. I used to do Mondays. But I got into too much trouble brooding over the Sunday before. Fridays work out a whole lot better for me and my bride.

I still want to post however, but not have to work at it.

So I think I will start a Friday tradition of freeloading off of others’ work and commend it to you instead of composing my own stuff.

Pastor Kevin DeYoung has a provocative post on the Gospel Coalition Blog entitled Be Careful How You Pray.

In it he quotes Puritan Jeremiah Burroughs. Here is a sample from the post, one of two comments from Burroughs:

There are many things which you desire as your lives, and think that you would be happy if you had them, yet when they come you do not find such happiness in then, but they prove to be the greatest crosses and afflictions that you ever had, and on this ground, because your hearts were immoderately set upon them before you had them.

You can read the rest of the post here. It’s not long and definitely worth your time.