Escaping Idolatry

I’m so glad I serve a God who is both patient and merciful.  I set out this week to prepare to teach a Sunday School lesson on Israel’s cycle of idolatry… which turned into an honest appraisal of my own tendencies in this direction (if I am honest that covetousness is in fact idolatry*, and that discontent is a sort of covetousness…).

Here I am heading into another Alberta winter without a vision of how I shall bear it happily…why am I here? Does God not know how much I fear/dread/dislike bitter winters? and etc.  At the same time I am missing a much-loved occupation which I have had to let go this month…with nothing yet to replace it.  Feeling loss, feeling lost.  Feeling ungrateful.  Feeling like the Israelites must have felt when they succumbed to bitter complaining and were bitten by fiery serpents!

From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom. And the people became impatient on the way. And the people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we loathe this worthless food.” Then the LORD sent fiery serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many people of Israel died.
Num. 21:4-6
ESV

 So this Sunday School lesson is very much for me before I deliver it to the kids in the morning:

“Idolatry is never a matter of obedience alone; it reveals a heart that does not have faith and trust in God and all his purposes.  Idolatry puts our selfish desires over the one true God…Will [I] trust that God is faithful to his promises and that his promises are the true prosperity of his people?”

But even if I can psyche out what idolatry looks like in a child’s heart, even if I can drive home this lesson… the one I most want to convey is that being caught in sin is not the end.  God is merciful and gracious.  He’s on our side, knowing that pursuit of false gods will ruin us, knowing that His designs for our lives are only and always good…

We can run to Him with those things we want so badly. We can lean on Him when we are lonely, or cold, or feeling lost…We can take our discomforts to Him. He’s given us this amazing promise that no temptation is strong enough to overpower us and He will always make a way of escape.  He actually wants us to win over temptation and find our heart’s desires met in Him.

So it’s ok to be uncomfortable, but not ok to mutiny!  It’s ok to be honest with my feelings but not to complain about my lot in life, as though I were a god-forsaken orphan rather than a much-doted-over child of the King.  And I can bear up with joy because God will make a way.

No flowers are blooming outside my window and the weather is less than balmy. But His mercies are new every morning. I have only to dry my eyes and watch with gratitude and wonder at how He will provide for all I need.  Christians are by definition people who have turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and wait for His Son from heaven.  (I Thess.1:9,10)  Why would we want to turn back now?

And so I affirm with gratitude:  God is my refuge and my strength, a very present help… in preparing Sunday School lessons, in seeing myself honestly, in facing winter, in finding my purpose in this stage of  life, in everything, at all times!  I’m in good hands, and so are you ( :

–LS

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 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. I Cor.10:11-14 ESV

I mentioned at the start that I am thankful God is both patient and merciful.  That’s because in looking back I see that He and I have been over this issue before. So I have mercifully kept this post short today for your sake ( :

Past posts talking about idolatry at greater length are here:

Why are you Discouraged?
http://ponderings.theskeltons.org/2012/06/22/why-you-are-discouraged/

[on the easily missed connection between discouragement and idolatry]

Spotting Idols.
http://ponderings.theskeltons.org/2012/06/29/spotting-idols/

[on trying to pinpoint what counts as an idol]

High Hopes.
http://ponderings.theskeltons.org/2013/04/27/high-hopes/

[What do I insist I must have in order to be happy?  That thing has become too important]

*”Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.” Col 3:5 ESV

 

If only I had just a little bit more…

Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. Heb 13:5

I don’t have a problem with coveting great riches.  Sounds to me like way too much to have to worry about.  But I do have a problem with wanting ‘just a little bit more’.  I’ve been volunteering at a ministry I love for the last few years. It fits me to a tee, so much so that I’ve gradually assumed ownership of it and become the manager of my department.  I’ve enjoyed the challenge and been rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, but this niggling sense of coveting more of a reward for my energies has spoiled the job for me.  I have had to step back and evaluate my motives.  What is it that keeps me going when there is no monetary gain? Is the simplicity of serving Christ enough?  Do I believe that godliness with contentment is the greatest possible gain?

I don’t want much, but a little more pocket money would be nice.  A greater freedom to spend without scrimping, a little more leisure to travel, perhaps a few more ‘treats’.  With a little more money I could be a better Grandma–more visits to those kids, and I’d have more to share, right? A little more would just be… better, right? I mean, I don’t want much…

But God’s Word is a searchlight, a living and active sword that slices into my inmost thoughts and exposes the truth.  This ‘little more’ that seems so innocent, that promises to satisfy, is a ruse, and a distraction from serving God wholeheartedly.  The thief who comes to steal contentment is on the prowl. God’s Word flashes like the signal at a railway crossing: Keep yourselves free from the love of money!  Be content with what you have.

What makes me think that if I had a little more money, I could do more better (and happier)? The case for contentment is strong. The road in pursuit of wealth is potholed with hazards.

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
I Tim.6:10 NIV

Desire unleashed from design  is a bottomless pit.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. I Tim. 6:9 NIV

But the reason that outshines them all is this:

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5 ESV)

Jesus is saying: You have ME! What more could you want?!

This flies in the face of the  business-savvy opportunism which urges us on every hand to monetize our abilities and to measure our worth by the money we are able to generate. Do you write?  Let us help you figure out how to make money at it… You volunteer? You’re worth more than that… You’ve found a great deal at the Thrift store, re-sell it on Facebook… Your kids are in school? you should get a job–make something of yourself… What’s that in your hand?  Use it to make money! 

God’s agenda is so different.  In His calling to Moses it was God who took what Moses had and made it into something far greater than Moses could have accomplished on his own.  He instructed Moses to throw down what was in his hand and see what God would do with it, to demonstrate God’s power to those he served so that they would believe that God had sent him.  Moses’ impoverished situation tending someone else’s sheep alone in the desert was the starting point, not for material gain, but for availability to be God’s mouthpiece.[Exodus 4] And His pay?  Well, he worked for a reward money couldn’t touch that would come after all the faithfulness:

“choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward.” Heb 11:24-26 ESV

The reproach of Christ is still greater wealth than any pyramid scheme can offer though His advice seems so outmoded:

“Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Lk. 12:15 ESV

But what if I were to live from a faith paradigm, seeing Jesus as my all sufficient Saviour and Lord?

  • The world and everything in it belongs to Him, my rightful Master (Ps. 50:12).
  • He has promised to supply the needs of those who serve Him (Phil.4:19,20).
  • He has invited me to freely ask for whatever I need  (I Jn.3:22)

How does needing ‘just a little more’ fit this paradigm?  Would ‘a little more’ make me a better servant of God?  Or would it just enable me to have my own ‘spending money’ to do with as I please? Would it fuel godliness or merely independence?  And would I in fact be more generous than I am now if I had more money?

These are all questions I’ve had to face up to lately.  In the Word I read that I already have everything  that I need to fulfill my calling.

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. II Pet.1:3 NIV

If I still perceive a need, I am welcome to ask!  (with full awareness that my motives will affect the outcome as per James 4:3) God may supply a paying job and the skills to do it, or He may supply contentment.  But my ultimate need has nothing to do with money or ‘stuff’–my greatest need is to find contentment in the knowledge of the One who calls me to Himself and to His Service.

Delight yourself in the LORD, and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him, and he will act. Ps. 37:4-5 ESV

When His desires have eclipsed my own petty ‘wants’, the lure of ‘a little more’ will fade leaving only the desire to be a better servant to the One who has paid an inestimable price  to buy me out of the slavemarket where Mammon is master.

For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. I Pet.1:18-19 NIV

I have the best Boss and the best benefits in existence!  Would I trade this for coveting a paycheck? He knows my every need and my heart’s desires.  Whether I work for ‘free’ or for money is not the issue, but keeping my bearings about Who I am actually serving and What He has called me to do is critical.  He equips me with everything I need to do His will.  I can trust Him with the details.

Godliness with contentment is indeed GREAT gain.  May we be people mastered by God’s calling, not lured away by ‘a little something more’.  The halls of faith are lined with people cheering us on.

Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
Ps. 34:9-10 ESV

He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will supply and multiply your seed for sowing and increase the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way to be generous in every way, which through us will produce thanksgiving to God. II Cor. 9:10-11 ESV

All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future–all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God. I Cor. 3:21-23 NIV

Lord, make us a gracious and generous people since we have already freely received so much.  Remind us that we have been bought with a price. We are not our own.  Make us faithful servants working only for the pleasure of your smile for we belong body and soul to You, our faithful Saviour, Jesus Christ.

–LS

This post is long enough, but I cannot close without pointing you to Balaam’s tale.  He said all the right things: “Even if Balak gave me all the silver and gold in his palace, I could not do anything great or small to go beyond the command of the LORD my God.” (Num. 22:18 NIV)  but something was clearly amiss in his heart. It took a talking donkey and an angel with a sword to direct him in the way he should have gone in the first place, away from temptation!

May we be people that cannot be bought, for whom money is not a determining factor in our service.

As I was in the process of getting this post ready a beautiful illustration of Heb.13:5 came through cyperspace in the form of an article by Kaitlyn Bouchillon at Incourage.  She reminds us that many things besides money can erode our contentment.  What is it you long for?  She makes the case for letting it be Jesus alone.  Winsomely said, her post is here:

https://www.incourage.me/2019/10/the-list-i-cant-throw-away.html by Kaitlyn Bouchillon

 

In life and death, this my comfort…

Q. What is your only comfort in life and death?
A. That I am not my own, but belong with body and soul, in life and in death, to my faithful Saviour Jesus Christ.

He has fully paid for all my sins with his precious blood,
and has set me free from all the power of the devil.

He also preserves me in such a way that without the will of my heavenly Father not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, all things must work together for my salvation.

Therefore, by his Holy Spirit he also assures me of eternal life and makes me heartily willing and ready from now on to live for him.

I love that!  And there’s more….

Q.

What do you need to know in order to live and die in the joy of this comfort?

A.

First, how great my sins and misery are;

second, how I am delivered from all my sins and misery;

third, how I am to be thankful to God for such deliverance.

I did not grow up with the Heidelberg Catechism but what a service it has done in condensing these foundations of our faith.  I ran across the opening line of this confession earlier this week and it has hung on in my mind…
There are a multiplicity of Bible references to back up these points here
but for this time I’ll leave this page neat and tidy with just these words of great comfort and joy!  How good it is to ponder what God has done…

Thanks be to God for His unspeakable gift!

–Linda

 

When Truth Seekers fail to find the truth that transforms

May I depart from my usual fare today to point you to my gleanings from a thought-provoking memoir I finished this week?  It was the title that caught my attention: Living with a Wild God: A Nonbeliever’s search for the Truth about Everything

I’m always curious to hear people’s stories of finding truth and coming to faith.  This memoir did not however turn out to be that kind of story…In fact it seemed more like the frustrated musings of an older woman who since her childhood had struggled to align her upbringing as an atheist with the stirrings in her heart and  mind which intimated there must be something more.  This book seemed to me to be her valiant effort to put to rest the child of her adolescence and go bravely on as a self-declared and outspoken atheist, without regrets…

But the upshot of this reading for me has been to consider why it is that seekers after truth sometimes don’t find it?  What state of heart and mind must the seeker bring to the search? And closer to home, what are the truths I am designed to be living in that still elude me?  And why is that?  Is there an underlying heart condition that is necessary if truth is going to transform the way we live?

Paul urges believers “Do not be conformed to this age, but be transformed by the renewing or your mind, so that you may discern what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.” (Rom.12:2)

The writer to the Hebrews says a mark of maturity is that one’s “senses have been trained to distinguish between good and evil.” (Heb.5:14 HCSB)

Jesus declared Himself to be the way, the truth and the life—the only access possible to God the Father. And He told His followers that if they would abide in His Word they would know truth that would transform them, literally set them free! (Jn.14:6; 8:31,32)

Some  stuck it out when His teachings got hard to hear.  Many abandoned.
(see: Jn.6:66) Those who stayed realized there was no where else to turn for truth that gives life.  They chose to stick with Jesus even when they didn’t understand…They believed.

And here’s the sticking point where intellect can become a stumbling stone.  To the extent that we depend on our own reasoning, our own good judgment to determine the way things should be, to that extent we may be reluctant to trust the simplicity of the Gospel (There’s nothing I can do or have done that merits God’s favor apart from faith in Jesus? My goodness is not enough?).  Or, if we’re believers already, we may find it hard to keep trusting God’s Word when it seems overly ‘restrictive’ or just plain hard.  (Forgive repeatedly? Give thanks always? Submit to whom?) We are quick to judge what seems right and what is clearly mistaken (oh, it’s not that big a deal; why is God so harsh? That verse couldn’t mean what it says).  We bear a strong resemblance to Eve who was the first to reason in the face of God’s clear command (“It seems to me…”)

A humble teachable heart is requisite if the truth is going to find its home there.  In the case of the memoir I’ve just finished, this was missing.  Truth was wanted but was barred from entry by preconceived beliefs that the ‘Christian’ idea of God—all powerful and all-loving—was not an option. In fact such a God was considered a logical impossibility in light of the world we live in, a fictitious invention and unworthy of another thought.  A learned bias had created a hard heart, incapable of believing just when that trust could have allowed the truth to permeate and bring a new lease on life!

This book made for a sobering read.  It made me want to ferret out beliefs that strangle my own growth in faith, beliefs that keep me from peace and joy and reliance on Jesus for my life.  And that’s where I’m at today.

I leave you with Paul’s testimony to the Philippian believers; it resonates with me right now:

Not that I have already reached the goal or am already perfect, but I make every effort to take hold of it because I also have been taken hold of by Christ Jesus. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let all of us who are mature think this way. And if you think differently about anything, God will reveal this also to you. In any case, we should live up to whatever truth we have attained. Phil. 3:12-16 CSB

And let’s hang on to our great hope as we cooperate with the Spirit to renew our minds in truth.  A great day is coming when the transformation will be complete!

… our citizenship is in heaven, and we eagerly wait for a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humble condition into the likeness of his glorious body, by the power that enables him to subject everything to himself. Phil. 3:20-21 CSB

Amen? May it be so!

Oh, and if you’re curious and would like to read some excerpts from a non-believer’s quest for truth, I’ve posted some quotes with corresponding Scripture notes over at my Quotes and Notes blog: Dawn’s Quotes and Notes at dictationbydawn.wordpress.com

God bless you in your quest to walk in truth.
Thanks for giving me a hearing ( :

-LS

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. Pr. 3:5-6 ESV

Be strong in the Lord

Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. (Eph 6:10 ESV)

I am not strong in ways I’d like to be.  I greatly admire people who plot a course for themselves and follow-through managing their time until the end result is in hand.  With dogged determination, consistency and vision they move strongly toward their goals.  I admire this single-mindedness.  I’m more of a waffler (if there is such a word), prone to double-mindedness, but praying ‘help my unbelief!’,  and trusting that God will yet work this out in me.  There’s hope for me when I see Paul’s admonition to the believers in Ephesus: “Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might” because it makes apparent that it’s not my natural strength that is called for, but my dependence on the Lord’s strength. Self-help may be the world’s only alternative but believers in Jesus have the power that raised Him from the tomb at work in us!

I have been spurred on this week by an array of verses emphasizing His strength and my need to step out in dependence on it.

“Not by strength or by might, but by My Spirit” says the LORD of Hosts… (Zech 4:6 HCSB)

“Be strong”–this is the Lord’s declaration. “Work! For I am with you…this is the promise I made to you when you came out of Egypt, and My Spirit is present among you; don’t be afraid.” (Haggai 2:4,5 HCSB)

All the strength I need is at my disposal when I am walking in obedience. This tidbit came from Sunday’s sermon:

Christ’s strength is proportionate to our obedience in fulfilling His purposes for our lives.  Every act of obedience brings strength for the next step. (Shafer Parker)

I’m coming to recognize that this strength is not realized until I step out and start moving, start walking by faith into the thing that intimidates me… whether it be composing a blog post or saying ‘yes’ to teaching a Sunday School class or any number of other faith-stretching prospects.  Fear may taunt but it cannot withstand the tread of faith.

God has always been faithful to lead His people from fear and bondage to faith and life.  The Bible is replete with the stories of those He’s called and shaped for their callings despite their natural reticence.  Gideon and Moses come to mind.

(Gideon) “Go in this might of yours, and you shall save Israel from the hand of the Midianites. Have I not sent you?” Judges 6:14 NKJV

(Moses) What’s that in your hand? Throw it down and see what I can do with it!

“You have led in your steadfast love the people whom you have redeemed; you have guided them by your strength to your holy abode. Ex. 15:13 ESV

Fear ensnares, cripples, and paralyzes. Faith awakens to possibilities, gives courage, and makes strong.  No wonder Paul prayed as he did for the believers in Ephesus, that their hearts would be enlightened to understand “what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places”(!) (Eph. 1:19-20 ESV)

This same power is already at work in us who believe.  We’ve already been raised from certain death, and made alive in Christ so that we are capable of truly good works that reflect His life in us.  And now we’re called to “pay careful attention to how [we] walk” so that our lives would reflect this faith in the God who is at work in us.

May you and I know more and more this strength that comes with walking by faith into the good works prepared for us to walk in.

For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. —Your way was through the sea, your path through the great waters; yet your footprints were unseen.—for we walk by faith, not by sight.

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.

Eph 2:10 ESV; Ps. 77:19 ESV; II Cor.5:7 ESV; Eph 3:20-21 ESV

–Linda