Tag Archives: idolatry

Resolutions, Determination, and Godliness

1Timothy 4:7-10 “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

If you could choose one word to use as a label for your year in 2016, what would it be? I know mine. It would be determined.

 I started this year with a desire to break away from everything that reeked in the previous year. My mind was set as far as resolutions go, that as far as it depended on me, physical pain was not going to be my master. That might sound weird to people who haven’t lived with chronic pain, but this is where I was at. As far as I was even remotely able to this year, I went to the gym three times a week. If I was in pain, I didn’t really care, I was going anyway. If I was utterly exhausted (which I generally was since I have been anemic most of the year), I didn’t care, I was going anyway. Sometimes that meant slow cycling with my eyes closed, but at least I was moving. Sometimes that meant leaving the gym feeling worse off than when I started- but for me, it was a way of taking back control. It was a way of saying that pain could never bring me back to that horrifying black corner of helplessness. Get me as far away from that corner as possible. Basically, exercise was my way of kicking pain in the face.

I also went back to university this year and took a Creative Writing course, which I really enjoyed. Sure, completing each writing assignment meant my hands ached for a week, but once again, I did not really care. I was determined. Pressing on. Taking my life back. Kicking pain in the face.

And treatments. I tried so many treatments that it is almost funny, just trying to keep on functioning.

Often I have not tempered my determination with open hands. At times I have had this huge piece of my heart that just hasn’t wanted to trust God’s will in this area, to be honest. My eyes have been on temporary things so often that they don’t feel temporary anymore. When we set our eyes on temporary things, they simply take over our whole view.

It has been the most difficult part of my Christian life, to balance determination and contentment, or in other words, to balance desire and surrendering. There is nothing wrong with my wanting to be free of life hindering health issues, and there’s nothing wrong with setting goals and striving for them with determination.

But it’s wrong to want something so badly that you are no longer willing to accept your circumstances when God doesn’t give you what you want. It’s wrong to stop trusting Him in an area and to go chasing after it apart from Him. And it’s wrong when you put more effort into reaching temporary goals, goals that don’t even hold a promise for you, rather than exerting much of your effort into becoming more like Christ. Continue reading

We Rejoice In Our Sufferings

 

 

Romans 5:3-5 “More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”

“We rejoice in our sufferings.”

We have here a totally unnatural response to suffering. Only God can produce that. It isn’t hard to be angry or frustrated with suffering. If we just give way to our fleshly, automatic responses, this is likely where we are headed. Nobody wants to suffer. I don’t want to suffer. I want an easy life; I want goals met without roadblocks, I want plans carried out without interruptions, I want pleasure that is unhindered by pain, I want choices that are dictated by pure want and not scribbled out by limitations. I want myself and everyone I love to be healthy and happy.

I suppose we call that hedonism. For the Christian, we might not want to attain this “easy” and “pleasure-filled” life in the same way the world might, or at least we shouldn’t. Many of the pleasures of this world Christ has made ugly in our eyes. But if that is the case it doesn’t mean we are free of self-indulgent want. It doesn’t mean we are free of the idolatrous and entitled thirst for easiness.

Simply put, we want a smooth road and pleasures by the wayside. Comfortable and enjoyable friendships, respectful children, loving spouses, a healthy church, steady income, hobbies, health, vacations, laughter- simple things. Not ungodly things. Good things. And it is so easy to make them all idols.

So I’m preaching to myself. Suffering can lay its hand on so many avenues of life. It can interrupt our “good things,” or turn them upside down. It can even destroy them completely. And who wants to rejoice at that?

No. It is not a natural response. In fact, many circumstances call for what I have called “fitting sadness.” Rejoicing does not mean there must be the absence of sorrow, for the bible says we are “sorrowful yet always rejoicing (2Corinthians 6:10).”

But here we have it. “We rejoice in our sufferings,” strange as it seems, and the scripture says it is because of what we know God is going to produce through them. Continue reading

The Desolation of Smug

Trials have a way of killing smugness. I suppose some little wave crashes upon a boulder and he doesn’t feel it much. But there are waves that beat upon a stone without relent, and sometimes he thinks “I’m surely going to crash into this sea like so many tiny pebbles do.”

It’s the long relentless trials, often repeated, in which desperate men cry out for deliverance with parched throats and eyes that dim of scanning the horizon (Psalm 69:3)- these are the trials which put a knife to smugness.

To be smug is to “be contentedly confident of one’s ability, superiority, or correctness; complacent.” You can see it in the life of people who store up their treasures and say to themselves “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:20).” We see it in those who simply live without acknowledging God or His ways, fill up their measure of sin, and tell themselves “He will do nothing; no disaster will come upon us (Jeremiah 5:12).”

It’s easy to identify smugness in unbelievers isn’t it? And we might have some patience for that, since after all, they don’t know God. But there are some sins, or struggles the smug believer thinks he or she would never be tried with. The things “good” and “real” Christians just don’t do, or even think of doing. Good Christians don’t get divorced. They don’t curse, or hit things, or hit others. They don’t hurt themselves or have “mental breakdowns.” Good Christians aren’t tempted to use alcohol or drugs to dampen the pain and difficulties of life. They don’t get bitter. They don’t experience large scale moral failures. The “true” Christian doesn’t question God’s purposes and never thinks- “perhaps a different path would have led to a happier, easier life.” That “real” Christian never has doubts about His God or His faith.

The smug believer thinks he doesn’t do those thing because he simply couldn’t do those things. He is too good a Christian in fact. It would be impossible for him because he has climbed too high for such a heinous, ignorant, and disgraceful stoop. He knows too much truth and has too pure of motives. His reasons for coming to Jesus were right; he follows Christ for Christ alone, and nothing else that might be gained. Take the world but give him Jesus, and he will be just fine. He is sure.

The problem is not that he despises the thought of ever sinning or struggling in such ways, but rather that his trust is in himself, and his attitude towards failing believers is one of quick readiness to judge and deem them cut off. But trials are not so easy and glamorous a tool of refining believers as sometimes they are made to sound. People talk about their victories but we often don’t hear how trials will prove you ugly before they start to make you pure. Consider this excerpt from a poem I have written reflecting on this topic:

“Did you think
To put you in a furnace
Would not scorch your skin?
To come out gold
With easy glee
And not the surfacing of sin?
Or that boiling water hot
Would like a warm bath
Scathe you not?
Like sinking in so comfortably
To fire should come easily?”

When a Christian goes into the boiling pot and stays in it for a long time, God will undoubtedly grow and refine that Christian. I look back on this long trial with chronic pain and I see a hundred idols slain. But it is not as if they crumbled down themselves. They’ve been slain through tears, constant battle, and much travail in prayer. The longer I go through the trials, the more I see that there is no temptation uncommon to men (1Corinthians 10:13), and there is no temptation or sinful thought too sinful for myself. I see those idols slain, but I know their root lies in my own heart and when my eyes go off my God how quickly they resurrect. I see that this battle isn’t won until I finally find myself safe in the arms of God. I will overcome and conquer one doubt or one sinful wish, but it will rear its head again. I’m not sure there’s such a thing as killing a sin (including smugness!) once and for all. When you’re living in a trial it is constant war and you must kill the flesh daily or quickly lurch towards destruction.

If it were not for God you’d find my faith somewhere dashed upon a rock. I’m certain of it. Trials have had their way of desolating smugness in me, but there is (thank God!) a higher rock than I (Psalm 61:2). Smugness and security are not the same thing. Eternal security- the promise of God that He who began a work of salvation in me will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus (Philippians 1:6)- is my hope and joy. It is my confidence in the day of trouble.

My confidence is a person. My trust is in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’ll echo these words from hymnist John Berridge:

“Thou poor, afflicted, tempted soul,
With fears, and doubts, and tempests tossed…
What if the billows rise and roll,
And dash the ship-
It is not lost;
The winds and waves and fiends may roar,
But Christ will bring thee safe on shore.”

About the smug heart, I have written previously:

Did you think endurance
Meant to never fall?
So with steady steps
To conquer all?
So worthily you might
Win the crown?
And say at last
“Was me who won
By never falling down”?
The valiant and strong
Shall win the prize!
All Heaven will esteem me
With their eyes!

Do you see how that attitude differs from the Christian who has seen they are a ship who left to their own will drift off in the turbulent seas and be dashed? Oh, but even if he drift for a time, even if the winds, and waves, and fiends assail him, and he approaches his shore as one almost sunk- be it certain, Christ will bring him safe on shore. He is not lost.

That is the hope I’m clinging to, and am learning to embrace with godly fear- fear that takes seriously the warnings in scripture that urge us not to fall away, while clinging to the only Savior who can sustain our hope, our faith, and our strength. Eternal security is not a doctrine that leads to sin, unless we have careless hearts which cast ourselves on a doctrine rather than a person (Christ), with an attitude of smugness. That is dangerous, and a real threat. But when shattered hearts lean into the Everlasting Arms, resting safe and secure from all alarms, that indeed, is a beautiful thing. God who sees the heart knows the difference.

I end with a portion of scripture that seems fitting:

1Corinthians 10:12-14 “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and He will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation He will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry.”

A Deceptive Abortion Experience

Emily Letts’ video of her “positive abortion experience” has gone viral. You can read about it here. What she may perceive as being positive, is in fact a potent example of the deceived putting forth darkness as light and deceiving others.

I have written half of a novel with the goal of shining a light on exactly this type of thinking. For various reasons I have set it aside for awhile, but this event has renewed my zeal to get back at it again. Emily Letts’ words reminded me so much of the following portion of my book, and so I have decided to share it, with hopes that this blatant deception might open eyes to the demonic and idolatrous beliefs that help fuel abortion mills.

A Deceptive Abortion Experience

The office greeted her with a warm blast of air and as she shed her winter coat a young, pretty receptionist offered a kind smile. Anna looked around the waiting area. A young girl with her mother and a solo middle aged woman with frizzy bleached hair sat silently. Neither looked visibly pregnant and for some reason that relieved her slightly. No one made eye contact. She fought a sense of shame at being there- not so much because she believed her plan was wrong, but because she felt like it was beneath her. This wasn’t something that should happen to an upstanding, moral person, of good family upbringing like herself. Something about being there made her feel cheapened.

After registering and taking a clipboard full of papers to fill out from the smiling receptionist, Anna took a seat. She filled in everything but the waiver, which she’d been instructed to wait and sign with the counsellor prior to the procedure. As she waited, her eyes wandered to a painting which took up an entire wall of the office. On a bright backdrop of purple, was the figure of a woman who appeared to be coming up out of a winding maze. Paused in the midst of dancing, her hair spun around her and her arms flew freely over her head.

Anna noticed a stack of pamphlets on the magazine table with that painting on the front and discreetly picked one up. Anna had always looked back on that moment with gratitude, considering it a defining moment in her life as she read the words:

“Every woman is a beautiful and unique child of the Universe, intertwined mysteriously with the divine. You have been endowed with grace, blessed with kindness, and granted the power to live, to love, and to choose your own path. “For Women’s Health” has had this picture painted on our wall in hopes that you can see yourself in this woman. No matter how winding or how many dead ends your path has been filled with, you alone have the power to free yourself. No one and no circumstance can stop you if you choose to embrace the powerful woman that you are. You have come here because you alone know what is best for you. As women, we reach out to those around us with tenderness and grace. Have you considered treating yourself with the same mind and the same acceptance? Today is yet another day to find empowerment within. Perhaps the choice to come here today was a hard one. We applaud your courage. Be kind to yourself and set your dreams before you. You alone are the author of your life. Live freely, move forward, and find that place where you can dance without reserve.” Continue reading

Identity

Perhaps today, more than ever, we revolve ourselves around our own identity. Social media makes it easier, and more public than ever, to almost develop a “brand” for ourselves. We shoot messages and photographs through the air, building up an image for ourselves, trying to display that we are a person worth knowing, or even admiring. We want to believe and to display that we have worthy thoughts, worthy talents, worthy goals, worthy jobs, worthy parenting, worthy marriages, and the list goes on. It seems we are in a race to impress- though isn’t it true that flattery pleases for mere seconds? If we live for the praises of men we will return to the treadmill for praise in a rush- rarely satisfied, barely catching a breath. Continue reading

Praise that Kills the Gospel

I’ve noticed a trend in some of today’s popular Christian music that disturbs me. There’s a song that’s been playing on our local “praise” station, where the artist sings his prayer to God: “Yeah, I want to believe, Jesus help me believe, that I am someone worth dying for.” In the end the artist turns to the listener and exhorts them “You gotta believe, ya you gotta believe, that you are someone worth dying for.” Continue reading

The Rich Man

He cradled the back of his head in his hands, propped up his feet and said “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing.”

His investments had multiplied, assets increased, and businesses all profitably ran themselves. But what should he do with all this wealth? His children were well taken care of… there were grandchildren coming soon, he hoped. “I will secure a future for myself, my children, and my children’s children. I will say to my soul ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’”    Continue reading

Will God Regret To Punish?

Jeremiah 23:19-20 “Behold, the storm of the Lord! Wrath has gone forth, a whirling tempest; it will burst upon the head of the wicked. The anger of the Lord will not turn back until he has accomplished the intents of his heart.

What is it like for God to at last pour out His wrath on a life poorly lived? How does He feel about this? There was a time when I imagined that God did this with great reluctance, tears in His eyes, and looking away. It was almost as if the situation was out of His control as He pronounced final judgement. Continue reading

Is God’s Anger Warranted?

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Is the creation of Hell a cosmic overreaction?  Is God simply temperamental?  Or as some portray Him, does God have multiple personality disorder, deciding one day to deal retribution and the next day changing His mind and giving forgiveness instead? 

Everywhere today people are saying:

“Didn’t God make us this way?  If so, what gives Him the right to Judge us?” 

 “I thought that God loved everyone no matter what they’ve done, and that He would forgive every person.” 

 “How can a good God send people to Hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus?”

 “God loves the sinner, He just hates the sin.”

This is the result of today’s “Christians” grossly misrepresenting the God of the Bible, and frightfully often creating a God in our own image.  In addition to this the sinfulness of man has been so downplayed in modern preaching that God’s judgement on mankind seems to be completely unwarranted.  Charles Spurgeon had it right in his day and preached a message that we need to hear more of, that: 

“…Sin intrinsically and in itself demands and deserves the just anger of God, and that that anger should be displayed in the form of a punishment… It is impossible, absolutely, that sin can be forgiven without a sacrifice. God must be just, if heaven falls. If earth should pass away and every creature should be lost, the justice of God must stand, it cannot by any possibility be suffered to be impugned. Let this, then, be fully established in our minds.”

So we must ask: Does the sin of man deserve the anger of God?  So much of this question is tied up in other questions: What rights can man claim from God?  And what right does God have over man?

Had God not chosen to create man, man would never have come into existence.  We owe our life, our bodies, our breath, and every human function that we have to God.  Without Him, we could not see, feel, think, move, smell or hear.  Without Him, we would never know what it meant to enjoy a created thing, such as the sun setting over the mountain, an eagle soaring, a fish jumping on a serene lake, or the embrace of a loved one.

Mankind alone was created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26).  He has bestowed upon man unique abilities to think- for example the gifts of reasoning, growing in knowledge, and using our imagination.  He has given us a conscience, a moral compass that reflects back to us the character of God.  We were created with eternity in our hearts (Eccl 3:11), and with a soul that endures after the death of our mortal bodies. 

God was not obligated to create us, or to make us eternal beings.  He graciously chose to include us in His great story, and to teach us truths about His glorious nature through creation, His Word, and ultimately through the life of Jesus Christ, God coming in the flesh.  He did not have to reveal Himself to us, and He did not have to come here to be mocked, scorned, and crucified.  He chose to.

When we really understand who He is, and what He has freely done for us, the question should not be “How can God be so heartless, and unfair, so as to send people to Hell?” but rather “How could, and why would God let any of us fallen creatures enter in to His heaven?”

We are God’s creation.  That means that He is in control, He is our Lord and Sovereign, and He has the right to do with this earth as He pleases.  Thank God, that He has been active in this world as a patient, righteous, loving, merciful Father, as we will discuss further in later sections.  But I want you to see that man has no right to complain and strive against the very God who gave him life, provides for his every need, and gives an abundance of pleasures we take for granted.  “If He should set His heart to it and gather to Himself His spirit and His breath, all flesh would perish together, and man would return to the dust (Job 34:14-15).”  Shall man complain against the God who keeps him breathing?

Isaiah 45:9-12 “Woe to him who strives with Him who formed him, a pot among earthen pots!  Does the clay say to him who forms it, ‘What are you making?’ or ‘Your work has no handles’?  Woe to him who says to a father, ‘What are you begetting?’ or to a woman, ‘With what are you in labour?’”  Thus says the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, and the one who formed him: ‘Ask me of things to come; will you command me concerning my children and the work of my hands?  I made the earth and created man on it, it was my hands that stretched out the heavens, and I commanded all their host.”

What does God think about man’s complaints that He should not have “made us this way” or that He deals with us “unfairly”?  He thinks it is absurdity.  God owes nothing to sinful man, other than retribution for our sins, while man owes to God what he cannot and will not give: His life.

Now that we’ve established this, we can address the question of whether or not man has given God just reason to be angry. 

How should we respond to a God who would not only create us, but surround us with beauty, give us companions, reveal Himself to us, and ultimately die for us?  We should love Him with all of our whole hearts, minds, soul and strength.  We should consider that nothing on earth is as valuable or desirous as pleasing such an awesome God.  Our entire lives should be consumed by seeking to know Him more, and anticipating the day we could meet Him more than any other day on earth.   

But what does the average person’s life look like?  He goes “astray from birth, speaking lies (Psalm 58:3).”  Man is filled with longings for self, and spends all of his energy finding ways to promote self, indulge self, and honour self.  As he gets older he gives credit to self for his accomplishments and deals blame to others for his failures.  God is far from his mind.  “None is righteous, no, not one, no one understands; no one seeks for God (Romans 3:11).”  His delights are in the things of the world and the lusts of the flesh, and his mind is so set on attaining this that God has been shoved out of it. 

Should I be more frank?  Look around.  Turn on your television.  Open a magazine.  Walk down the hallway of a high school.  Is the common person rich in good works, kind to others, and living in heartfelt devotion to the God who made him?  Or are you more likely to see shameless sensuality, adultery, drugs, homosexuality, cursing, abortion, and the more subtle sins of gratuitous living?  Walk into the science class.  Are they giving glory to God for His majestic works, or rather puffing themselves up in vain imaginations about a collision of nothing that conveniently created everything?

Man has not responded to God with loving commitment to Him, but rather has compartmentalized God into a little box that you only need if life gets really bad.  We would rather have God dead, buried, or silent, than have to conform to His standards or give our lives to Him. 

That’s not fair!” you say.  “There are lots of unreligious people who do plenty of good things.”  Well, that might be true, but why are they doing it?  If they have not submitted their lives to Jesus Christ that means they are rejecting Him as their Lord, and all their good works are in vain.  Everything that is not done in faith, or done for His honour and glory is sin (Romans 14:23), because it fails to acknowledge God as the one worthy of our works and as the only one that could contribute any goodness in to hearts or to this world.

Some may look nice on the outside, but what lies within?  The Bible says that the unbelieving heart is “evil (Hebrews 3:12).”  It says that “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God (John 3:18).”

You think it is an overreaction and unfair for God to send good people to Hell just for not believing in Jesus.  What you haven’t understood is that there is no such thing as good people.  In Mark 10:18 Jesus said “No one is good except God alone.”  How can any person who refuses to live for His creator, and the one who died for Him, be called “good”?  How can you say “just for not believing in Jesus?”  Rejecting God’s Son, and ignoring His life, His death, His word, and His call for you, is the greatest offence a man can give to God.

Hebrews 12:25 “See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.  For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven.”

Hebrews 10:29 “How much worse punishment, do you think will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God?”

God has every right to be angry at all who refuse Him.  A spurned husband or wife will be outraged, as well as broken hearted and deeply grieved by the spouse who left them for another lover.  Would you say “Who does that man think he is?  His wife is her own person, free to make the choices she wants.  He has no right to be angry with her.” 

Well God has created us, loved us, and provided for us, and yet we pay Him no heed and say: “He has no right to be angry with us.”

I hope dear friends that I have helped you to see that God has every right.  Not only does He have the right, but by the necessity of His nature He must punish all sinners for their rejection of Him and their crimes against Him.  What He is under no obligation to do is show mercy.  I need to end with some scriptures that give a glimpse into the heart of God, and the hope that is His loving kindness.

Jesus: “Go and learn what this mean, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.  For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners (Matthew 9:13).”

Ezekiel 33:11 “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked would turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die…?

Part 7: Give Your Life To Follow Him

Repentance is not only a part of our conversion to Christianity, but a daily part of our Christian lives.  I mentioned that I would come back to the idea that we are not only to repent of obvious sins but also of self-centered living, which we are all guilty of and naturally accustomed to.  Can I say that I am writing this to myself as much as to any new Christian or others?  Jesus Christ’s call to a radical, self sacrificial, willing to die for Him kind-of- living is practically unheard of in our culture.  A Christian who does the bare basics is applauded.  The believer who lives a moral lifestyle, attends a bible study, and isn’t embarrassed to confess they attend church on Sundays is considered a good example of the faith.  I’m not trying to demean anyone.  I understand that everyone is in a growing process, and for some this may be the point in their Christian walk they are meant to be at.  But how many of us are actually growing in radical self sacrifice for the sake of reaching lost souls with the gospel of God?  I am truly speaking to myself.  So many of us are stagnant, complacent, and lacking in passion.  It ought not to be this way!

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