Naming our Struggles (Murray)

 Quite often we as Christians know the various sins against which we struggle.  We might be strong in some areas, but are weak in others.  For example, a person might not have a violent or quick temper, but he does struggle with discontentment and envy.  A Christian might have real and genuine loves for others, but she has a hard time being a good steward of her money.  The list goes on.  Usually as we mature in the faith, we start to see our strengths and weaknesses.  The Lord, through Scripture, helps us see our failures so we can repent of them and ask for grace to “put off” what is sinful and “put on” what is good.  However, sometimes we can’t always name our weaknesses, we don’t know what to call them, or they haven’t been pointed out to us yet.  In Refresh, the authors list some of the main areas of stumbling for women – though I’d add these are areas of stumbling for men as well:

Idolatry.  We make idols of beauty, fashion, career, husband, or children – especially their success in school and sports.

Materialism.  Our pursuit of money or bigger and better homes often results in working more hours or jobs than we can handle and also nourishes the womb of discontent that gnaws away at our minds and hearts.

Debt.  One of the greatest causes of stress is living beyond our means.  Maybe we don’t spend 50 percent more than we can afford, but 10 percent, year on year, grows our debt and our anxiety levels.

Comparison.  Pinterest, Facebook, and mommy blogs can lead us to compare ourselves unfavorably with others who seem better looking, better homemakers, better organizers, and better everything.

Indiscipline.  Although it’s hard to be disciplined and organized, it’s more stressful to be the opposite, which so easily occurs as we use technology.  How many hours are wasted on the internet, resulting not only in guilt over wasted time but a pileup of other duties that now have to be rushed.

Identity.  We define who we are by our successes, our failures, or some part of our past, instead of who we are in Christ.

Media diet.  Just as what we put in our mouths affects our emotions, thoughts, and hearts so what we put in our ears and eyes has emotional, intellectual, and spiritual consequences.  Many live as if Philippians 5:8 said, ‘Whatever things are false, whatever things are sordid, whatever things are wrong, whatever things are filthy, whatever things are ugly, whatever things are terrible, if there is any vice, if there is anything worthy of criticism, meditate on these things.’

Perfectionism.  We strive for flawless family, house, meals, and appearance.

Failure.  We fail at school, or at a job, or at homemaking, or in witnessing, or we fail to meet our own or others’ expectations.

Later in this helpful book the authors talk more about dealing with these dangers and sins in light of God’s grace and his word.  It’s good to know our sins and weaknesses so we can, by God’s grace, fight them.  We don’t want to wallow in weakness, we want to press on obediently in the strength of the Lord!

NOTE: I edited the list for length; you can find it in its entirety on pages 46-48 of Refresh by David and Shona Murray.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Advertisements

Idols, Significance, and Security

 If you’re looking for a helpful biblical resource on idolatry, I very much recommend Richard Lints’ Identity and Idolatry.  I’ve read a few other good resources on idolatry, but in my view, this one is the best.  In this book, Lints talks about the various angles of idolatry, including image, identity, worship, purpose, significance, and security.  Speaking of significance and security, here’s an excerpt I appreciated:

At the heart of worship is a sense of ‘giving yourself away’ to another.  Key to worship then are the questions ‘To whom are you giving yourself away and in what manner are you giving yourself?’ Genuine worship is giving yourself to the living God in whom and for whom you ave been created.  Idolatry by contrast is substituting the true object of worship (God) for an imitation (idol) and reorienting the relationship from worship to possession.  One who worships the living God does not possess him for one’s own purposes.  But those who create an idol seek to possess it for their own purpose….

An idol is desired as a means to an end, and the end is significance and security on the individual’s own terms.  Since significance and security cannot be fulfilled by the idol, the idol creates a deeper longing for significance and security for that which it cannot provide.  This results in a chasing after the idol, driven by the conviction that eventually the idol will somehow provide the promised significance and security.  The cycle repeats itself.  Longing provides the opportunity to chase, and chasing creates a deeper longing.  Effectively the idol possesses the one who fashioned it.  The yearning for significance and security that initiated the dynamic of idolatry has in fact led to a deeper dissatisfaction and a greater frustration – a dissatisfaction and frustration caused by the inability of the idol to fulfil that which it appeared to promise.

That’s worth reading again – and it helps us as God’s people fight against the idols in our own hearts and lives.

Richard Lints, Identity and Idolatry, p. 156-7.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI, 54015

Idolatry and Ingratitude (Luther)

 Luther’s lectures on Romans were given during the years 1515-1516 at the University of Wittenberg.  During this time, Luther himself was still learning and reforming, so his later lectures and writings are more developed than what you find in his work on Romans.  However, in much of his discussion on Romans he’s on the right track, so to speak.  Here’s a very insightful commentary on the themes of ingratitude and idolatry from Romans 1:21-23.

…People even today come to commit spiritual idolatry of a more subtle kind, and it is quite frequent: they worship God not as he is but as they imagine and desire him to be.

Ingratitude, namely, and the love of vanity (i.e., the sense of self-importance and of self-righteousness or, as one says, of “good intentions”) delude people terribly, so that they become incorrigible, unable to believe anything else but that they behave splendidly and are pleasing to God. Thus, they make themselves a gracious God, though this does not correspond to reality. And so they worship the product of their own imagination more truly than the true God himself, who they believe resembles this product of their fancy.

Here now “they change him into the likeness of their own imagination” (Rom. 1:23), which exists only in their corruptible minds that know only carnal desires. See, then, how great an evil ingratitude is: it produces a love of vanity, and this results in blindness, and blindness in idolatry, and idolatry brings about a whole whirlpool of vices.

Gratitude, however, keeps the love for God and thus holds the heart directed toward him. Because it is thereby also illumined, it worships, once it is illumined, only the true God, and to this worship there soon attaches itself the whole chorus of virtues.

Luther’s insight here on the text and the human tendency is quite profound.  Unthankfulness and idolatry are related, and Luther very well explains Paul’s teaching on that fact.  This is perhaps one reason why the Apostle emphasizes thankfulness in the Christian life (Eph 5:4, 5:20; Phil. 4:6; Col. 2:7, 3:17, 4:2, etc.).  So we “give thanks” in all circumstances, because it is God’s will for us in Christ (1 Thes. 5:18)!  The Heidelberg Catechism’s structure also picks up on this biblical truth: though guilty we are saved by grace, and our response is gratitude.

The above quotes are found on page 26 of Luther’s Lectures on Romans.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI, 54015

The Danger of Idols (Lints)

 Not many people in our American culture worship and bow down to physical images and statues.  Instead, our idols are things like money, entertainment, sports, sex, health, fitness, image, relationships, and work.  But whether the idol is an actual statue or something like football or a flat stomach, the truth is that idols are dangerous and deadly.  Here’s how Richard Lints explains it as he discusses the image of God in man as it relates to idolatry:

“The image finds its flourishing in its relationship to the original.  Creatures find their satisfaction in the God who made them.  The idol represents both a false fulfillment and a perversion or corruption of the creature.  The [biblical] canon goes to great lengths to narrate the tug in human hearts between the living God and the idols who pull them away from the living God.”

“Idols are dangerous in the same way that outside love interests are dangerous to the marriage.  Adulterous liaisons inevitably pull the marriage apart at the seams.  As with adultery, so idolatry is about both wrong beliefs (e.g. a belief about where satisfaction can be found) but more importantly, idolatry is also about corrupted desires (e.g. the desire to get gratification on whatever terms are necessary).

“All idolatry involves error in belief to some extent, if the belief in question is that some creature has a worth enjoyed only by the Creator.  If there is only one God, there is only one object worthy of worship and adoration.  Monotheism and monolatry go hand in hand.  The worship of one God (monolatry) is a necessary consequence of the belief that only one God exists (monotheism).”

These are some profound thoughts about idolatry.  It is dangerous, it is about wrong beliefs, and idolatry is about corrupted desires.  These are things to think about as we fight idolatry and seek to faithfully bear the image of God rather than sinfully bear the image of an idol we’ve made.  As the Apostle John said, Dear children, keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21 NIV).

The above slightly edited quote is found on page 39 of Lints’ Identity and Idolatrywhich, by the way, is one of the best books on idolatry that I’ve ever read.  I highly recommend it!

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

The Simplicity of Reformed Worship

Historic Reformed churches worship the Lord in simplicity.  That is, Reformed churches do not include ceremonies, festivals, crucifixes, processions, incense, relics, images, vestments, altars, and so forth in their worship services.  Reformed worship simply consists of the Word (read, preached, sung, confessed, prayed) and the sacraments (the Lord’s supper and baptism).

The main reason for the simplicity of Reformed worship is the teaching of Scripture.  The Bible doesn’t command God’s New Covenant people to worship him with all the images and vestments and ceremonies.  The Reformers believed that the external ceremonies and images didn’t elevate the mind to God, but domesticated God and therefore were idolatrous.  Furthermore, they said that all these non-biblical extras in worship throw a fog over the gospel.  Simple worship, therefore, means the gospel will not be obscured.  In 1560 the Reformer Guillaume Farel explained it like this:

The Church should be decorated and adorned with Jesus Christ and the Word of his gospel and his holy sacraments.  This great Sun of Righteousness, Jesus Christ, and the light of his gospel, have nothing to do with our burning torches and our candles and candelabras.  God has instead ordained that by true preaching and by the holy sacraments practiced in their simplicity this light might be manifested and illumine us with all glory.

Similarly, Theodore Beza preached the following in 1585:

[God’s house is not a place] that we enter to see the beautiful shapes of vaults and pillars, or to admire the splendor of gold and silver and precious stones.  Nor is it a place that we visit in order to fill our ears with the signing of choirs and the music of organs.  Rather it is a place where the pure Word of God is clearly preached in the presence of each person, with words of exhortation, consolation, warning, and censure necessary for salvation.

In other words, the Reformers wanted worship to be ordered according to the Word and centered on the gospel.  They wanted to keep it simple so God’s word and his gospel would clearly be front and center.  In that way, he alone would receive all the glory, honor, and praise.  ‘Soli Dei Gloria’ goes hand in hand with Reformed worship!

The above discussion and quotes are found on pages 31-37 of Scott Manetsch’s book, Calvin’s Company of Pastors.

Shane Lems
Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC)
Hammond, WI

The Thin Idol (Or: The Idolatry of Being Thin)

We would be wrong if we thought that eating disorders and obsession with weight and size were things that only teenage girls struggled with.  In fact, many adult women struggle with these things, as do men of various ages.  In our superficial culture where outward appearance is everything, it’s easy for us to become obsessed with our looks.  How many (dangerous) fad diets have come and gone, and come back?  How many fad exercise routines and regiments have come and gone, and come back?  This is even tough on Christians; sometimes our desire to be a certain weight or size is stronger than our desire to follow Christ.  Yes, I’m thinking of idolatry.

Because Elyse Fitzpatrick understands these struggles, she wrote Love to Eat, Hate to EatThis isn’t a Christian dieting or Christian exercise book.  Instead, it’s a Bible-filled guide on following Christ without being enslaved to diet, exercise, weight, or size.  I’m not quite finished with the book, but so far I really appreciate it because it has reminded me of the biblical perspective on these things.  For example, here’s one helpful selection:

“…I’m going to say something that may seem rather surprising.  You know, I’ve read the Bible straight through many times, and I’ve never found any Scripture that commands or even commends thinness!  Think of that.  I don’t believe that there is any verse in either the Old or New Testament that encourages Christians to be thin or states that being thin is a mark of godliness.  Keeping in mind the fact that God’s Word, the Bible, is our guide for life, it appears that many of us (including me) have spent much of our lives chasing after something that God doesn’t seem to think is very important.”

“[However,] just because God doesn’t command thinness doesn’t mean that we should ignore our health or our eating habits. …While there are some biblical concerns that can be brought to bear on our health and eating habits – such as learning to desire only Him, thinking about your life the way that He does, and learning to discern whether your eating habits are godly – the whole matter of ‘thinness for thinness’ sake’ isn’t one of them.”

“Seeking after thinness merely for appearance’s sake is not a godly goal.  That’s because it falls into the categories that we have already been discussing – such as the pursuit of outward beauty (which the Bible calls vanity) and all of its attending futility.  The kind of beauty that God desires for you is found in 1 Peter 3:4: ‘…the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit.’  It is called the ‘fruit of the Spirit’ (the results of the Holy Spirit’s work in your life) in Galatians 5:22-23…. [It is found in Proverbs 31:] “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord, she shall be praised.”

Elyse Fitzpatrick, Love to Eat, Hate to Eat (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 1999), 45-46.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

God’s Unfaithful Wife by R. Ortlund – A Review

If you’ve read the OT history books and the prophets, you know that God’s people time and again were unfaithful to him.  One biblical metaphor for this unfaithfulness is spiritual adultery, or playing the harlot.  Israel prostituted herself with false gods, forsaking her Maker and Husband, Yahweh.  So the Lord brought punishment upon them for their adultery/idolatry.

Ramond Ortlund wrote an excellent book that traces this theme throughout Scripture: God’s Unfaithful Wife: A Biblical Theology of Spiritual Adultery.  In just under 200 footnote filled pages, Ortlund traces the theme of spiritual adultery from Genesis to Revelation.  There is a scripture index at the back of the book.

I agree with Ortlund: this theme usually isn’t discussed enough (perhaps because it isn’t a PG theme!).  But it is true: “…if Yahweh is the husband of his people, then their lapses from faithfulness to him may properly be regarded as the moral equivalent to whoredom” (p. 8).  We do live in a sexually charged culture, so these themes must be discussed carefully and with a biblical nuance, but they must be discussed!  Ortlund does this well.

While this book does discuss the spiritual adultery theme in the Pentateuch, most of this language is found in the prophets, so Ortlund does spend a lot of time talking about Hosea, for example.  In fact, chapters 3, 4, & 5 are entitled “Committing Great Harlotry,” “Under Every Green Tree,” and “In Every Public Square,” echoing the prophetic language of Hosea 1, Ezekiel 6, and Ezekiel 16.  Ortlund does a nice job exegeting and explaining these texts that talk about Israel whoring after other gods. It is quite a gruesome and disgusting picture – but then again, forsaking God and running after idols is indeed gruesome and disgusting (and supremely foolish!).

Ortlund also talks about the marriage imagery in the NT.  The spiritual adultery imagery is not quite as pervasive in the NT as it is in the OT prophets, but it is there.  The NT discussion also includes a nice section on what it means that Christ is the bride of the church and how we are to remain pure and faithful to him.  There is a concluding reflections section which is quite short.  (One of my few critiques of this book is that I wish there was a bit more application in this last section.)  Finally, there is an appendix about this harlot imagery and modern feminist interpretation.

I recommend this book for students of the Word who want a helpful, detailed read on this theme of spiritual adultery in the Bible.  It’s not always easy and quick reading, but it is clear, level-headed, and nicely summarizes Scripture’s teaching on the topic.  Also, if you’re studying or preaching through Hosea or Ezekiel, use this book as a supplemental commentary!  I thoroughly enjoyed it, and will use it again when this theme comes up in my studies, teaching and preaching.

Raymond C. Ortlund, Jr. God’s Unfaithful Wife (Downers Grove, IVP: 1996/2002)

Shane Lems