That Idol That You Love, It Doesn’t Love You Back

Read this today and had to pass it on:

Everyone has to live for something and if that something isn’t the one true God, it will be a false God–an idol.

An idol is anything more important to you than God. Therefore, you can turn even very good things into idols. You can turn a good thing like family, success, acceptance, money, your plans, etc. into a god thing–into something you worship and place at the center of your life.

This is what sin is. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything (even a good thing) more than God.

Do you know the idols you’re prone to worship? At our church we talk about 4 root idols that we tend to attach our lives to.

CONTROL. You know you have a control idol if your greatest nightmare is uncertainty.

APPROVAL. You know you have an approval idol if your greatest nightmare is rejection.

COMFORT. You know you have a comfort idol if your greatest nightmare is stress/demands.

POWER. You know you have a power idol if your greatest nightmare is humiliation.

Here’s what you need to know about your idol: That idol that you love, it doesn’t love you back. False gods don’t love you. Idols don’t keep their promises. Anything you worship and build your life on other than God will suck the life out of you and destroy you.

A relationship with Jesus starts when you identify and turn from your idols. Notice what Jesus was always doing with people during his ministry–he was constantly identifying and challenging people’s idols, calling them to turn from their false objects of worship in order to follow and worship him.

I’m convinced that the reason there is so much shallow Christianity in our culture is because many people never displace the idolatry in their lives with Jesus, but instead simply bring in Jesus as an “add on” to their life, keeping their idolatry firmly in the center.

Americans think freedom is found in casting off all restraint and being masters of our own lives. What we are blind to is the reality that everybody has a master. We all worship something and whatever we worship is our master. Idols make bad masters. They enslave. Until you identify the idols in your life you will feel enslaved, tired, and unhappy and you won’t know why. You will feel this way until you discover the only master who can set  you free: Jesus. Jesus is the one master who will love you even when you fail him. Your idols don’t do that. Jesus is the one master who loved you when you were at your worst and who reigns over your life with perfect wisdom, power, and goodness. He’s the one master you can trust. Only he can give you freedom.

“Little children, keep yourselves from idols” 1 John 5:21

Such a Small Offender (James 3:1-5)

Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways. And if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man, able also to bridle his whole body. If we put bits into the mouths of horses so that they obey us, we guide their whole bodies as well. Look at the ships also: though they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! (James 3:1–5, ESV)

It is one of the most horrific and disturbing sounds on the face of the planet. It can awaken from a deep sleep, strike panic into the heart of a grown man and can incite severe outbursts of murderous rage. It is the sound of a mosquito in my bedroom in the middle of the night. More than once have I combed the recesses of our bedroom, rolled up magazine in hand, looking for the vile offender.

While the scenario is admittedly overstated, I am amazed that such a small, little, insignificant bug can cause me so much grief! They cause problems everywhere they go — camping trips, fishing, summer-time BBQ’s — that little guy can be quite the instigator!

Today’s passage tells us that our little tongues can be the same way. Small and insignificant compared to the rest of our body, that slender pink muscle has done irreparable damage countless times. Ever the illustrator, James paints two pictures, one of bits in horses mouths and the other of a rudder on a ship. The bit and the rudder are small when compared to the object they’re directing, but have the ability to completely change the direction the horse or ship.

Our tongues work the same way. We can completely change the direction of a person’s day or even their life by our spoken word. Let that sink in for a bit. Perhaps you’re reflecting back to a recent scenario during which you “set a fire” (v.5) with your tongue. It may be time to go back and seek forgiveness for what you said. Certainly not easy, but definitely God-glorifying. That little guy can bring about so much grief. Think carefully before you speak (James 1:19-20). Don’t react, but give thought to your words.

When words are many, transgression is not lacking, but whoever restrains his lips is prudent. (Proverbs 10:19, ESV)

Don’t forget that the opposite is true is well. Great things can be done by one well-timed phrase. While the tongue has the power to destroy, it also has the ability to build, to encourage and comfort. Take time to use that little guy for good today.

Learning and Teaching

The Lord GOD has given me the tongue of those who are taught, that I may know how to sustain with a word him who is weary. Morning by morning he awakens; he awakens my ear to hear as those who are taught. The Lord GOD has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious; I turned not backward. (Isaiah 50:4–5, ESV)

Ambrose, a leader in the early church, wrote in the fourth century AD, “I desire . . . that, in the endeavor to teach, I may be able to learn. For one is the true Master, who alone has not learnt, what He taught all; but men learn before they teach, and receive from Him what they may hand on to others.”

May we be those who learn from Christ and teach others the truth that has melted our hearts.

Faith in Action — Part 2 (James 2:21-26)

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was completed by his works; and the Scripture was fulfilled that says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”—and he was called a friend of God. You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the prostitute justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead. (James 2:21–26, ESV)

Today’s passage lists two well-known Bible characters who demonstrated their faith through their works — Abraham and Rahab. James illustrates the point he made in the previous verses by providing two examples of what God expects from us.

The first was Abraham. His faith was demonstrated by willingly offering his son Isaac upon an alter when God asked him to. What faith! Hebrews 11:17-19 tells us that Abraham simply expected that God would raise him from the dead — just like that! (FYI: In case you haven’t read the story in Genesis 22:1-10, God stopped Abraham just before he plunged his knife into Isaac. God then provided a substitute sacrifice — a ram which served as a portrait of Christ who became our substitute on the cross).

The second example is Rahab, a prostitute who lived in Jericho many years after the time of Abraham. When the Israelites came in to spy out the land God had promised to them, Rahab hid them from their enemies — which were actually her own people (Joshua 2:1, 8-13). What a step of courage and faith in a God she’d only heard rumors about! Her faith is once again commemorated in Hebrews 11:31.

Two thoughts come to mind as I read James’ examples:

  1. It doesn’t take a Christian      super-star to exercise faith. When God found him, Abraham was a pagan      idol-worshipper and Rahab an prostitute outcast. They were ordinary people      employed by an extraordinary God.
  2. God wants us to trust him in seemingly unimportant things. Neither of these biblical characters knew their actions would be recorded in what would become the best-selling book of all time. None of them knew they  would be set up as models of faith-in-action. God calls us to trust him  each and every day. Perhaps it’s giving a few dollars to help the needy when you really don’t have it or extending forgiveness to someone who doesn’t seem all that grateful for it. Simply put, when we demonstrate our  faith by our works in the ordinary and mundane, we please our God (Hebrews 11:6).

The Depth of His Mercy

The depths of our misery can never fall below the depths of mercy. —Richard Sibbes
I read this quote today and just had to share it. God’s mercy is always in greater supply than our misery. No matter how deep the valley, the well of God’s compassion is always deeper. Take a moment to reflect upon these verses:
and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (1 Timothy 1:14, ESV)
Praise the Lord! Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psalm 106:1, ESV)

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed, but my steadfast love shall not depart from you, and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. (Isaiah 54:10, ESV)

Taking Irratibility Seriously

By Phil Ryken (adapted from Loving the Way Jesus Loves)

Most of us tend to think of irritability as a natural response to life’s little frustrations. We also tend not to worry too much about our irritability, although some Christians may perhaps be wise enough to make it a matter for prayer. When was the last time you asked the Lord to help you respond graciously to that special person who always annoys you?

We should take our irritability much more seriously, because it is the very opposite of love. We know this because 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “is not irritable.” Irritability is the antithesis of charity. It is not merely a way of complaining, therefore, but actually a way of hating.

Ryken uses Mark 6:30-44 to show how Jesus dealt with a situation that irritated the disciples. Understanding the anatomy of irritability can help us battle it.

The Anatomy of Irritability

  • Who gets irritated: Everyone does, including people who are busy serving the Lord. When Paul told the Corinthians that love is “not irritable,” he was writing to believers in Christ who were active in their local church. If an apostle can get irritated while he is spending time with Jesus, then we can get irritated too. Whenever we start to get exasperated, we should see this problem for what it really is: a failure to love. We know this because the Love Chapter (1 Cor 13) tells us that love is not irritable.
  • When do we get irritated: The disciples were tempted to this sin at the end of a full day after a long trip, when they were tired and hungry. This happens to all of us. Physical weakness puts us in the way of spiritual danger. So if we find ourselves getting more irritated than usual, we may need to take the small but very practical step of getting something to eat and drink, or taking a little rest. This is also something for parents to keep in mind when their children are getting angry: taking proper care of them will help them fight against sin. Notice as well that the disciples were tempted to irritation right after they had been successful in serving the Lord. The strongest temptations can come right after we have been busy doing kingdom work, and the Devil is desperate to regain lost ground. We need to anticipate when we are likely to be physically or spiritually weak and thus in special need of prayer and the help of the Holy Spirit. When we are weak, we can be strong only by the power of God.
  • How does irritability treat other people: Basically, it doesn’t want anything to do with them. When the disciples were irritated about how long they had to wait for dinner, they wanted Jesus to send everyone away. This was not the only time the disciples tried to keep people away from Jesus: they did the same thing when mothers were bringing their babies for Jesus to bless (see Luke 18:15–17). When we are irritable, we want to get away from other people—our family members, our neighbors, our classmates, our coworkers—even if it means keeping other people away from Jesus, too. Our exasperation is not just a failure to love other people but also a failure to love God. This is how irritability treats other people: by putting what we want ahead of what they need and, if possible, by trying to avoid their needs altogether. The real problem is us, not them. We need to be honest about this, because often we blame the people around us for the way we respond.

What irritable people need—what we need—is more of the love of Jesus. Thankfully, we see such love in Mark’s story of the feeding of the five thousand. What we see is not only an example to follow but also a Savior to receive into our lives, a Savior who has the power to change anger into love. Everything Jesus did in this story is exactly the opposite of what his disciples did. This is because Jesus is everything that we are not. He is the living demonstration of nonirritability, which is simply another way of saying that Jesus is love.

A Living Faith (James 2:14-20)

What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder! Do you want to be shown, you foolish person, that faith apart from works is useless? (James 2:14–20, ESV)

The message could not be more vividly clear: a genuine Christian with produce genuine fruit. Put another way: A true Christian will act like it! James confronts the myth that you can simply hold a doctrinal belief, that is, possess your beliefs like they’re simply information, and yet have no evidence in your life that faith has taken hold. If I watch people who have real, physical needs and am not moved by it than I have not been changed by the Jesus who was on a daily basis moved with compassion for the sick, hurting and those in need of redemption.

James further makes a mockery of the notion that our good works and faith can be separated by reminding us that demons have some solid doctrinal beliefs. How terrifying! Reciting doctrine is not the same thing has having genuine faith. To be sure, your doctrine (i.e. beliefs) must line up with what the Bible teaches, but being able to recite weighty theological concepts is not enough. The demons have lots of knowledge about God and it even causes them to shutter, but what they don’t have is faith. Our faith, if it is separated from a life of good works is useless (v.20).

For the Christian, this is immensely practical and challenging. The New Birth we experience when God saved us gives us new desires. We should want to serve him and live lives that are holy. For those who have wandered from their relationship with God and have not that desire to serve him, these verses are a sobering reminder to be certain they have a living faith (2 Cor. 13:5).

On the other hand, for the believer who has been gripped by God’s grace and wants desperately to please God, it is a comfort to know that the salvation God has worked in us will inevitably produce good works (Phil 1:6, 2:13). This is certainly not to say that we sit back and do nothing — that God has us on autopilot when it comes to righteous living. Holy living is hard work, but as Kevin DeYoung says, it is a “faith-fueled effort” (Col 1:29).

A couple thoughts about T4G

I have just returned from an amazing week at the Together for the Gospel conference in Louisville, Kentucky ( The focus of the conference was on the underestimated Gospel and I want to share just a few things that stood out to me this week.

  • The Gospel of Jesus Christ can change anyone. No one, no matter what they’ve done or what they’re currently doing, is beyond his saving reach.
  • We have to ask ourselves from time to time: “Do I really believe that God can answer the requests I’m praying for?” In our mind we may know that, yes, God is powerful enough to act. But often our heart betrays our beliefs and we pray without faith.
  • The Gospel has the power to sustain us in Christian ministry no matter how difficult the trials may get (2 Corinthians 4:1-6) so that we “do not lose heart.”
  • God is deeply concerned about our holiness. His grace and free offer of forgiveness to cover our sin do not in any way remove the heavy responsibly to exert “faith-fueled effort” in seeking to obey his Word.

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21, ESV)

Go to Dark Gethsemane

An excellent post by Kevin DeYoung this morning.

And they went to a place called Gethsemane. And he said to his disciples, “Sit here while I pray.” (Mark 14:32)

Sometimes we picture Jesus far too serene. We imagine him in the garden praying rather stoically, “Not my will, but yours be done.” But the mood at Gethsemane was anything but tranquil. Mark 14:33 says Jesus began to be greatly distressed and troubled. Verse 34 says his soul was sorrowful unto death. And in verse 35 Jesus fell flat on the ground. Here is a man with the weight of the world, and heaven and hell, on his shoulders.

Never has a man prayed facing more temptation than Jesus faced in the garden. Never has a man prayed awaiting so much suffering. Never has a man prayed with such emotion and anguish. Luke records that “being in agony he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat become like great drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). It’s called hematidrosis: under intense pressure or fear, the blood vessels around the sweat glands contract and then dilate violently, causing them to rupture. Blood then enters the glands and is secreted through the pores of the skin. The endocrine system knew what was coming.

It is impossible to exaggerate the depth of Jesus’ anguish in the garden. Imagine knowing your child would die later today or that the planes were going to crash into the Twin Towers or that you’ll have a terrible car accident next Friday. That’s what Jesus knew was coming, only terribly and eternally worse. Jesus was facing more than death or sadness. He was facing God-forsakeness.

Jesus stared at the worst drink a man could drink–the cup of God’s wrath. He gazed into its bitter poison. He thought of draining it down to the dregs. And hoped for another way.

But there was no other way. Upon making his request three times–”Remove this cup from me”–Jesus was not set free from the suffering before him. Just the opposite. After praying in the garden, his closest friends disappoint him (Mark 14:36-41), one of his disciples betray him (14:42-49), and all his companions desert him (14:50). Even the anonymous young man in the background would rather run stark naked through the woods in the middle of the night than be caught next to Jesus.

This is dark Gethsemane where Jesus Christ–the perfectly obedient, perfectly faithful Son of God in perfect relationship with his Father–did not get his request granted. At least not his first one. The cup was not taken from him. The wrath would not be assuaged another way. Jesus could not avoid his infinitely grievous dark weekend of the soul. God’s will would be done. Not the way Jesus had hoped. But the way he was willing for it to be.

For us. For joy. For glory.

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