IMAGINE THE TERROR OF THE OLD TESTAMENT SAINTS
WHEN GOD CAME NEAR
THE SHEKINAH GLORY
WHENEVER HE CAME
THEY WERE FILLED WITH FEAR
MOSES TOOK OFF HIS SHOES AT THE BURNING BUSH
ISAIAH CRIED WOE IS ME
JOB WAS FLATTENED WHEN GOD CAME IN A WHIRLWIND
AND AFTER FOUR HUNDRED YEARS OF SILENCE
ON THAT HOLY NIGHT
THE PRESENCE OF GOD AGAIN STRUCK FEAR
When I was young, long before most of you were born, I loved watching television Christmas specials: Perry Como, Andy Williams…and though there were plenty of songs about chestnuts and winter wonderlands, they always had sacred songs as well, often closing with the spine-tingling O Holy Night, where you were reminded of the holiness of Christmas.
This year I watched a few and thought how different this world has become. Michael Buble’s 1st Christmas special did not have one sacred song. The New York Rockefeller Special with the lighting of the tree became pornographic and had to be turned off. No fear. No sense of the holiness of God.
But before I get too critical of the secular world, who does not know Jesus, let me turn this searing light on myself.
Early in our marriage, Steve and I came to love this simple Christmas chorus:
His name is called
God with us,
Revealed in us,
His name is called
Your name is called
God with us
Revealed in us,
Your name is called
When we realize that God is not only with us, but revealed in us, it should change our relationships with even the difficult people this Advent. Last Sunday after church, doing dishes with my dear daughter-in-law Julie, I told her I had an ethical dilemma. I told her of a new neighbor who was a believer, but whom I perceived might be difficult, and whom I feared could consume me. She had been calling and e-mailing frequently, asking to get together. Frankly, I was afraid if I opened the door I might be swallowed up. I was looking for support and agreement from Julie, but I didn’t get it. She said, “Mom — don’t you think Jesus would have you be open to her? Just be honest with her about your time. Set boundaries — but don’t close the door.” I protested, but Julie was firm, repeating her stand.
So, I got home, called the neighbor, and told her I had an hour. She came right over, and the poor lady put her watch on the coffee table so she wouldn’t stay more than an hour. She is a widow, talkative, and I asked God to help me listen, to be His love, yet I was antsy. Obedient on the outside but shutting up my compassions on the inside. But then God began to break through. She had been talking about Joel Olstein and how much she loved him, and I realized she had been under false teaching. She suddenly stopped talking and asked me if I liked him too. She was flustered when I said I did not, but she also was very open to finding out why. She listened. Then she told me she was trying very hard to live for Jesus so that she could be in heaven one day with her husband.
SUDDENLY GOD’S COMPASSION FOR THIS WOMAN WELLED UP IN ME. I stopped her, said her name, and pled with her to listen to the assurances Christ gives us. God was with us. She wept. Then suddenly she saw her hour was up and jumped up to get her coat and respect my boundary.
SHE WASN’T DIFFICULT AT ALL. I WAS.
I was not fearing God. I was not being the presence of God to my neighbor.
I was shutting up my compassions from one in need.
God with us. Revealed in us. Our Lord is called Emmanuel.
This week I want to begin with the free Keller sermon where he simply takes these three words: God with us.
It is an amazing phrase. It was first spoken by the prophet Isaiah, proclaimed by the angels to the shepherds, and should be the amazement of our lives. Keller said that when John Wesley was dying, his last words were: “The best thing is God with us.”
Yet Keller spends most of his sermon just on the first word, GOD, before he gets to what he calls the “soft” part, that He is with us.
Icebreaker and download free sermon (I’m sorry the other link did not take you to the free sermon): http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/
1. Of the paintings above, comment on one and how you think the people or the individual felt. Have you ever experienced that kind of fear? A God-quake? When?
2. Comment on Dee’s story with her neighbor. Could you identify? How is God calling you to be His love to someone this Advent?
3. We are half-way through Advent. Have you sensed the presence of God? When?
4. Listen to the Keller sermon, “God with us” and record your initial thoughts.
5. The bulk of the sermon was on the Word God
A. Jesus is God. Look at Isaiah 9:6 and find evidence from those names that Jesus, indeed, is God.
B. Keller differentiates between a general knowledge of God and an experience of God. He gives examples of Old Testament saints that experienced God.
What stood out to you from this and why?
C. Pray for yourself and each woman reading this blog, that she might have a sense of the holiness of God this week.
After all the terrifying experiences when God came near, why, Keller asks, would He now present Himself to us as a helpless baby?
WHAT IS MORE HELPLESS THAN A NEWBORN?
OR WHAT IS MORE APPROACHABLE THAN A NEWBORN?
YOU CAN’T KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF A NEWBORN BABY!
6. Keller talks about why, when Christ came, God suddenly becomes approachable. He tells a story of his wife Kathy in traffic court coming with all kinds of pictures and charts — and winning. But that is not how we will approach God on that terrible judgment day. What will be our defense?
7. Read Matthew 1:21-23
A. According to verse 21, why is this baby given the name “Jesus?” Explain how this great truth allows God to be approachable.
B. Approach God now in prayer, knowing He hears you, knowing you are clean in His sight because of the Savior, and ask Him to be near to you this day. Ask Him to help you walk in the light, to be His love.
C. What was the prophecy of Isaiah according to Matthew 1:23, and what does the name Immanuel mean?
Last week at church we sang a new Getty Christmas carol that talked about the prophetic meaning of the gifts of the Magi. Gold meant He was King, and myrrh meant He would die, and frankincense meant He was God with us.
Though I find the fragrance of incense too pungent, I love either the fragrant Christmas balsam candles or the balsam oil you can put in a burner with a tea candle underneath (from Bath and Body) The fragrance wafts up, filling my living room, reminding me:
God is with me.
God is with me.
God is with me.
This will be my first Christmas where the children will all be with their in-laws. (I know I’ll still get to see several sometime during that week.) But I will not be alone. God is with me.
Truly, He is. His presence comes to me through the body of Christ, through the music and fragrance of Christmas, through His glorious Word, and through His Spirit which will never leave me nor forsake me.
God with us.
8. What else impacted you from Keller’s message and why?
9. How has God been with you this week?
10. What is your take-a-way and why?
In the midst of the deadly “D”s (disappointment, death, divorce, disease, depression) there is a beautiful and mysterious D phrase: DEEP CALLS TO DEEP. For those of us who are children of God, there is such hope. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning. At the time our heart is sinking down, God may come to us, and His deep voice may speak deep into our souls.Last week Anne, who has journeyed with us for sometime, wrote something profound, something very related to this phrase: Deep calls to deep. She listened to Keller’s message Questions of Suffering on Job and responded:
My greatest take away is the idea that suffering is what bonds me to God. Having just finished the study on idolatry I remember my angst over how to replace my idols with Jesus. I tried everything. I denied myself and sought Him in the word and prayer but in the end I just had to wait for Him to come to me. And He did but not right away. So if I know that suffering will bring me closer to Him, perhaps I can lean in, knowing that I will get more of Him.
I have experienced exactly that — suffering has brought me closer to God. Yet if you would have told me seven years ago that my children and I would be doing well one day, and that I would actually be closer to God, I might have wanted to kick you. And some of you may feel that right now too. It may feel like we don’t understand the depth of your pain. And yet, God gives us real hope and Psalm 42 tells us how to take our souls in hands and to speak to them when we are sinking down. We must all learn to do this — for both times of catastrophic pain, but also for everyday sorrows.
On the very same shore that the above hammock is bathed in joyous light, I took this picture of my beloved months before he died. Steve was a contemplative man, and he often had to take his soul in hand during his illness. He told our youngest, “Annie — I’m so sad I have to leave you — but I’m so glad I got to be your daddy. And I will always be your daddy.” Even in those words I know that Steve was talking to his soul. He trusted God’s promises that we would be reunited one day. And we will! One day we will hug, we will talk, we will laugh — and “everything sad,” as Tolkein put it, “will be untrue.” Joy will come in the morning.
Steve told us that twice in his life God had spoken to him in a voice he knew was not his own — once during a profound depression, and once after his diagnosis of cancer. Each time it was Deep calling to deep with the same question:
Steve, do you trust me?
Each time God called him by name.
Each time He asked the same question.
Each time, Steve answered, “I do.”
Jesus cares about our sorrows and He comes to us. He can see the future, and He knows it is good. He knows our sorrow will only last for the night and joy will come in the morning, yet He still cares about our nights, and will comfort His suffering child. And at times, deep will call to deep.
What does this phrase that has inspired poets and painters mean? Charles Spurgeon interpreted it as “the deep voice of God speaking deep into our souls.”
Share a time when “Deep called to deep,” when in a time of sorrow or anxiety, the deep voice of God spoke deep into your soul.
There are three parts to the study this week:
A. An inductive look at Psalm 42
B. Listening to a free sermon on Psalm 42 by Tim Keller: Link
C. Listening to Midday Connection as Anita and I discuss this chapter from The God of All Comfort. (See link at bottom of page for past program)
READ PSALM 42:
Read as a lover reads, lingering on the images. There are four water images. The first is familiar to us.
1. In Psalm 42:1-2, what is the image? What do the streams of living water that the psalmist is trying to find represent?
2. The psalmist says he is not finding God. He is like a deer dying for water who comes all the way down from the mountain and finds the riverbed dry. What water image is in verse 3? How is this a true lament?
3. Look carefully and see if you can find hidden in this verse 3 the classic signs of depression. (weeping, not sleeping, not eating).
4. Find another causal factor to depression in verse 4.
5. Often, when facing a deadly D, we want to withdraw. Have you felt that way? Why is that one of the worst things you can do?
6. If you are, indeed, withdrawing, talk to your soul and tell her some of the ways being with Christian brethren has encouraged you in the past.
I want to tell you how you, my sisters on this blog, have come to mean a great deal to me. It is often through you that God whispers, encourages, and guides. You are a well of water into which I dip.
7. Now, in Psalm 42:5, the psalmist does something very wise. He takes his soul in hand and asks him a question. What is it?
8. For those who have been through our idolatry study, what do you think he is really asking his soul?
9. What, according to verse 5, does he tell his soul to do?
I was listening to Leslie Vernick on Midday Connection last week on relationships, and she told of going to The Christian Booksellers convention — a mega-event where booksellers and publishers connect and authors come for publicity opportunities. Leslie said that she began to get really jealous of some of her author friends who had bigger displays and more radio opportunities. And so she asked her soul, “What’s going on here?” [Why are you downcast, O my soul?] She realized it was her approval idol, and so was able to tell her soul to find her approval in God instead.
10. As the psalmist (we aren’t sure if it was David, though Spurgeon says it reeks of David!) is far away from others who love God (he may be fleeing in the wilderness from enemies, he may be captured) he remembers times when he did have fellowship with brothers and sisters. He remembers how God was close to him. He is lamenting when suddenly God comes to him. In verse 7 we have the famous phrase “deep calls to deep.” What water image is it paired with? What do you know about the roar of waterfalls that would go with “deep calling to deep?”
10. The fourth water image is both negative and positive, though I for so long only saw it as negative. Find it in this same verse.
A. How could this water image be negative?
B. Verse 7 paired with verse 8 shows how this water image could be positive. What do you see?
11. After the psalmist has talked to his soul, what must he do again in 42:11 and 43:5? What does this tell you?
12. Watch this and comment on it. What images from Psalm 42 do you find? Other thoughts?
13. Any other thoughts from Psalm 42? Application?
LISTEN TO KELLER’S FREE SERMON ON PSALM 42 AND RECORD YOUR THOUGHTS: Link
ONE THING THAT IS INTERESTING TO ME, IS KELLER REFERS TO PEOPLE WHO SO BACKED AWAY FROM GOD IN THE MIDST OF PAIN THAT THEY ARE NOT SURE THEY ARE CHRISTIANS. WHAT THOUGHTS DO YOU HAVE ON THIS?
LISTEN TO MIDDAY CONNECTION: Link
We must speak to our souls. Keller says he reads Psalm 96 to himself everyday to keep perspective about what is ahead. One day Jesus will come, and all weeping will be gone. The trees of the field will clap their hands. May we keep speaking the truth to our souls.
UPDATE: Here is the link to the “God of All Comfort, Part 4″ on Moody Radio: Link
I met Jack between my junior and senior year of high school, when I spent the summer at Northwestern University. N. U. had a “Cherub Program” designed to acquaint potential N. U. students with the excellencies of Northwestern’s speech, debate, and film departments. I became acquainted with the excellencies of Jack Tate.
At seventeen, protected by my parents and Midwestern conservative values, I was completely charmed by Jack. Darkly handsome, Jack was from North Carolina and seemed to know much more about winning girls than did the farm boys from West Bend, Wisconsin. He winked, he wooed, and he warmed my heart with flattering phrases. When he asked me to study with him one night, I wasn’t sure if he just needed a study partner or saw me as something more. But afterwards, as we walked out of the library and into a night fragrant with lilacs, he took my hand to walk me back to Willard Hall. On the way, he led me off the path and into an ivy-covered corner where two sorority house walls met. He kissed me passionately, like I’d never been kissed. My head was spinning. My desires had been awakened. This “cherub” had gotten her wings.
I could only think about Jack. Life was suddenly electric and my focus was Jack, Jack, Jack. As Thomas Chalmers put it, centuries ago, in his classic essay:
Under the impulse of desire, man feels himself urged onward in some path or pursuit of activity for its gratification. The faculties of his mind are put into busy exercise. In the steady direction of one great and engrossing interest his attention is recalled from the many reveries into which it might otherwise have wandered; and the powers of his body are forced away from an indolence in which it else might have languished; and that time is crowded with occupation…
Chalmers could have been describing a new career, a new project, or a new ministry. For me it was a new, and truly, my first boyfriend. I was controlled by my desire, my mind was in busy exercise, and I was not languishing, but alive, my thoughts crowded with occupation of Jack!
Jack and I returned to Northwestern as freshmen. We resumed seeing one another, but I began to see flaws in the object of my affection. He flirted with other girls, he lost his temper, and he had violent mood swings – tender one moment, furious the next. There were times he frightened me, and the deepest part of me thought I would be wise to stop seeing him. And yet – I couldn’t bring myself to do that. It wasn’t so much that I was so afraid of his reaction, though I was, but I feared the emptiness in my life, the vacuum that would be created by his absence.
I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t just say no.
Truly, I believe it was God’s mercy that brought Steve Brestin to my attention for I had neither wisdom nor spiritual insight. He seemed older than the other boys at Northwestern (he actually wasn’t, just much more mature). Ironically, we met in a class called “Human Behavior.” It was a large freshman lecture class combining psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Northwestern was challenging, and students took copious notes. But Steve simply listened. (I learned later that he memorized as the professor spoke.) He was different in other ways: other-centered, kind, mature. I didn’t know if he would notice me for I suddenly felt so young, like the teen-ager I was. But I kept choosing to sit in the seat directly in front of him.
On Monday, February 5th, Steve learned forward, and in a deep masculine voice I came to treasure, said, “I’ve run out of paper – would you happen to have any paper?”
I knew he didn’t take notes, so this was a hopeful sign! I tried to remain nonchalant as I handed him some paper. After class I grabbed my books and hurried out so as not to seem like I was pursuing him.
He ran after me and caught up with me in front of Deering Library, stepping in front me and introducing himself. “Hi, I’m Steve – I’ve wanted to meet you for weeks.”
To my great embarrassment, I was visibly trembling. He seemed concerned, and asked, “Are you cold?”
I nodded, blaming the wind from Lake Michigan. Immediately Steve took off his raincoat and put it around my shoulders. Then he asked me if I would go out with him that coming Wednesday night. (It was February 7th — an anniversary we celebrated for the next forty years.) I had all kinds of homework and normally would not have gone out on a weeknight, but I quickly agreed.
All I needed was that one date. Steve engaged me in conversation like no one had ever done before. He asked me question after question and really listened. He treated people, including me, with such gentle kindness. I kept thinking, “This is a man with character.” When I came home, I remember flopping backwards on my bed and exclaiming to roommate Heather: “This is the man I am going to marry.”
“What about Jack?” I shook my head. My heart had been captured by a new affection.
I broke it off with Jack. I could say no. Why?
It was the expulsive power of a new affection.
I don’t know what kind of a man Jack eventually became, but I do know that when we were dating, he looked great, but was becoming destructive to me. Yet I kept swimming toward him, like a fish swims toward a lure. Even when I began to see the danger, it was hard for me to swim away. What enabled me to finally turn was Steve.
1. Did you ever have your heart broken and then recovered by finding someone new? Or have you ever lost a job, ministry, or friend — but then recovered through a “new affection?”
THE EXPULSIVE POWER OF A NEW AFFECTION
Thomas Chalmers tells us that the only way to break the hold of a beautiful object on the soul is to show it more beautiful object. When a destructive “Jack” has a hold on us, what is our “Steve” that can rescue us?”
Though earthly love may seem a paltry comparison to our love for the Lord, I think it is the closest analogy we have, and one God uses to help us understand what gazing on Him and His gospel can do for us.
Many of us have not grasped the beauty and the power of the gospel. In part, that may be due to the way we have been taught, even in Bible-based churches. Each time reform has come to Christianity, it has been to bring the gospel back to the center. During the Reformation men like Luther called the church back to the gospel. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s love. We are already so deeply loved that He died for us. The Lord doesn’t want us to try to earn His favor, but simply to peer into His gospel and respond. How did I fall in love with Steve? By watching him and by responding (I sat in front of him, I went out on a Wednesday night, I told Heather about him…) and my affection for him withered by affection for Jack.
In the 21st Century, God’s Spirit has been moving again, awakening believers to this central truth. The Gospel Coalition has been formed by two present day reformers, D. A. Carson and Tim Keller, helping preachers to recapture the Gospel in their preaching. Christianity is not morality, not trying to follow Jesus’ example, not trying to earn His favor, but beholding Him and peering into His gospel.When we do that, there is an organic change in us, for He melts our hearts and wilts our desires for our idols. Those good things, instead of being ultimate things, return to their rightful place — like Anne’s story at the end of the last post about food. (Read it if you haven’t!) She didn’t find victory by continually repeating a rule, but her affection for the Lord is withering her idol. It isn’t about “doing” but about “loving, grasping the gospel, beholding.” Every other religion says “obey and you will be accepted.” Christianity says, “you are accepted, so you want to obey.” You may find this hard to believe, but I’ve found a preacher I like almost as much as Keller! His name is Colin Smith and he is a pastor from Scotland who has spoken at The Gospel Coalition and has helped me to see why this indeed, is a mighty movement of God. I will tell you how to listen to one of his messages, which so compliments this week’s study and will fill your sails, at the end of this post. But first, we are going to listen to another sermon by Keller.
YOU HAVE THREE ASSIGNMENTS THIS WEEK: LISTEN AND ANSWER QUESTIONS ABOUT KELLER’S MESSAGE: WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
WATCH AND CONTEMPLATE REBECCA’S U-TUBE VIDEO AND SEE HOW IT REFLECTS WHAT YOU HAVE LEARNED ABOUT THE GOSPEL.
LISTEN TO COLIN SMITH’S MESSAGE AND RECORD WHAT YOU LEARNED
This amazing blogging group has been so hungry and good about listening to sermons. This message by Keller shows the Gospel is richer and deeper than we might have understood. Then answer the following questions based upon it. You’ll need to sit down and have your Bible at hand as well. Here is the link and the sermon is free.
So often we think of “The Gospel” as the ABC’s of Christianity — as the way to get in. I know for years I associated it with “the plan of salvation,” as put forth in a tract that was instrumental to me, “The Four Spiritual Laws.”
The Gospel is “the way to get in,” but it is so much more!
THREE UNIQUE AND COMPLEX ASPECTS OF THE GOSPEL
It is, indeed. “sonship.” Understanding God’s great love for us can transform our daily life — it is personal, experiential. Keller tells a story from Thomas Godwin of a father walking with a little boy, and then stops, lifts his son up, kisses him, and then they continue walking.
Read Mark 1:9-11
1. How did this confirm both to Jesus and to the world His Sonship, and, correspondingly, the personal pleasure God the Father had in Him?
Read Romans 8:15-16
2. How does the Spirit confirm to us that we are, indeed, His “sons” in whom He has great delight?
3. Keller says that when you share the Gospel with people, they think you are inviting them into morality. (In another sermon he said, “They think you want them to become Republicans!” :>) His New York congregation is repelled by that idea! ) The Gospel is not morality, but something far different. Could you explain the difference between morality and the Gospel?
4. Keller said that rich doctrines are hard to put in a nutshell. What examples did he give other than the doctrine of The Gospel?
HISTORICALLY BASED BECAUSE IT IS GOOD NEWS, NOT GOOD ADVICE
5. What is the difference between good news and good advice?
6. Why do the historical events matter in Christianity? Why do they not matter in other religions?
7. Meditate on Caravaggio’s “Doubting Thomas.” When you think of this historical incident, why is this “good news” and not “good advice?” Comments on this artwork?
In every other religion you are saved by the teaching of the founder, in Christianity you are saved by the founder.
Now in the message Keller returns to the key concept of sonship. (As a side note, did you know that it is a great honor for women to be called “sons” in Scripture. It was revolutionary in biblical times for women to be considered equal with men.)
8. Why is it other religions cannot give you assurance about your status now?
9. What question does Martin Lloyd Jones ask – and what answers reveal a lack of understanding or understanding of the Gospel?
10. How does the teaching that we are saved by grace but have to keep it up by good works miss the Gospel?
11. What does it mean to you that His righteousness is put on you? (Remember how Susan told Tammy that even in her failure she got an A+?) How does this replace fear motivation with love motivation?
12. How does 1 John 4:18-19 relate to this?
A NEW KINGDOM THROUGH WHICH WE SEE EVERYTHING
13. The word Kingdom is a symbol for a new administration, a new set of values.
How does the Gospel bring a new structure to your life? How is the Gospel upside-down from the world’s values?
14. Why does the Gospel unite people of all classes, races, and accomplishments? Have you experienced this? Has your attitude changed toward people with whom you used to not associate?
15. How does Keller define the Gospel in a nutshell according to the Kingdom?
16. How does 1 Peter 1:12 show that the Gospel is complex?
17. What is your take-a-way from this message?
SECOND ASSIGNMENT: MEDITATE ON REBECCA’S VIDEO AND EXPLAIN HOW YOU SEE THE GOSPEL IN IT.
i had told you we would look at Thomas Chalmer’s essay more closely, but you’ve done such a good job with that, and I’m excited to where God has led me in discovering Colin smith. I don’t know how to give you the link to this amazing message, but I can tell you how to find it. Go to the I-tunes store and type in Colin Smith Transformational The Gospel Coalition. Listen to the 2009 message that comes up called Transformational Exposition. This Presbyterian Pastor from Scotland beautifully is training pastors how to preach the Gospel — it will give you an idea of what Gospel preaching is — and what it is not! I found it helpful not just for me as a speaker, but for understanding more of what angels gaze at and long to understand in the complex beauty of the Gospel.
18. Listen to Colin Smith and report!
MEETING OUR BLOGGERS! ELIZABETH!
I haven’t had the joy of meeting Elizabeth face to face but would love to sometime, for I sense a kindred spirit. I remember when I mixed up Elizabeth with Susan, another contemplative woman, and was praying for Elizabeth in ways that didn’t make sense – but she was so gracious.
Elizabeth gives “Clues of her Conversion,” saying she took it from my idea on my blog, and I confess I took it from Lauren Winner’s “Girl Meets God.” It’s a soul stretching way to look at Christ wooing you from early on — and I’d love to have more of you share your “clues.” Elizabeth’s are fascinating — God was at work in her, as He was in each of us, as a little child, wooing, her, and we’re so glad He did!
HERE IS WHAT ELISABETH WROTE:
First Clues of Conversion
I was raised Catholic, and in 2nd grade I told the priest at confession that I didn’t need to go through him, I was sure I could talk to God on my own.
At age 5 I witnessed Him answer my personal specific request. I was told by my mom not to bother God with such thing, but I knew better-and He answered!
I wept over the Stations of the Cross booklet at night in my bed.
After college I married my high school sweetheart. We have weathered many storms, but His grace has overwhelmed us. My husband is a true tender warrior for Christ and an amazing father.
We have 2 children we adopted at birth and are humbled and honored at the way He chose to knit our family.
My passion is to love my family well.
A specific way this study is changing me-and this is huge-is with my relationship with my daughter. I see how I have made an idol of my child-desiring her to be exactly what I think she should-devastated by her resistance to me. This study is helping me release her back to Him. I see my own desperate need for mercy and grace and because of what He has done for me, I can give her that same mercy and grace.
This is one of my favorite blog entries from Elizabeth:
I have my ideas of what my life should be like-expectations of myself as wife/mother/sister/friend/daughter, children who are well behaved and obedient and saved(!), enough money, good friends, etc…(the list never ends). By clinging to that picture of my life, by wanting to “save” it, on my own strength, I have made it an idol. My actions declare that I know better than God and want my way. I become frustrated at anything that threatens to disrupt the picture in my mind. I require myself to live in a state of striving, complaining, disappointment, depression, exhaustion.
But if I lay it down, at the altar, before the Lord…every decision, every time my children disobey me, every time my husband is late getting home or has yet another business trip, when I hear of a friend’s child with brain damage, when I hear bad reports from the doctor….if I lay it down and give it back to Him, as an offering…then I find Life. My heart rests, peace fills me.
… The past several weeks I have subtly seen a difference in the way I respond. All of the above mentioned issues happened recently, but each time, often out-loud, I said “it is Yours, Lord”. Even the small things, when my husband called to say he was having to leave town again, my usual response would at least be a sigh and a list of all it would “cost” me (we have no family anywhere near, so it’s always hard when he’s gone)…but I said “I give it to Him, He will take care of us”. And I felt instant peace. THAT is not me AT ALL! Bigger things-my children’s salvation..laying it down, always giving it back, as an offering of faith to Him.
Unweaned children cry in mother’s arms until they get something from mother – her milk. Only then are they quiet. But a weaned child is satisfied just with mother herself, with her very presence
This is Dee again: I also was so blessed by some of Elizabeth’s stories of growth with her daughter from our last post — so if you missed them, go back and read them. It is such a joy to me to see “my children walking in the truth.” Elizabeth gives me that joy, as do so many of you.
Let’s bless Elizabeth!
I do not do what I want to do,
but I do the very thing I hate.
“I CAIN’T SAY NO”
Ado Annie in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma
Ado Annie was the saucy gal in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma” whose signature song was “I Cain’t Say No.” She flounced her petticoats and flirted shamelessly with every man in pants. She explained to her disapproving friend Laurie that it wasn’t so much a question of knowing what she should do, for she knew she shouldn’t let them kiss and paw her, but it was just that she somehow wanted them to! Ado Annie was not in denial, she had simply surrendered. Like the cry of so many caught in the claws of addiction, she was saying, “This is who I am – I am the girl who cain’t say no!” She was like the Israelites in Jeremiah 2 who cried, “It’s no use!” The attraction is too strong! I can’t do it.
Of course this brings into question all the programs that tell young people to just say no – to just say no to drugs, to alcohol, and to sex outside of marriage. Are these programs without value?
THE LIMITED VALUE OF THE SECULAR APPROACH
This is the approach the secular world uses, for it is all they have – and it is not devoid of value. By making people aware of the painful consequences of their unwise choices, and the positive consequences of wise choices, it may help them to restrain themselves. If they have personally tasted the pain, they may be more open to denying themselves.
In a secular sexual abstinence program, students are told that sex outside of marriage results in disease, broken hearts, and unwanted pregnancies. A secular diet program will tell dieters that poor eating habits will result in a lack of energy, a lack of health, and a lack of enjoyment in life. A secular college ethics class will tell business students that lying and cheating to get money may land them in jail or may hurt their reputation and result in a loss of return clients. These lists of true and painful consequences may help a person restrain his self-destructive behavior.
However, there is an enormous problem when this is the only approach to changing behavior. The “law,” or the rule we recite to ourselves, can actually boomerang and increase our tendency toward lustful behaviors. Kids may go home from sex education classes with new sexual awakenings. I’ve gone home from a Weight Watchers meeting determined to try the recipe for the Weight Watchers brownies and ended up eating half the pan.
THE LAW CAN INSPIRE SINFUL THOUGHTS
Hearing “the law” may actually increase the likelihood that we will sin. First, it may introduce a temptation into our minds.
I received a small blue Schwinn bike for my sixth birthday. Dad taught me to ride – first with training wheels, and then by running along beside me, laughing along with his euphoric daughter. I pedaled proudly all the way down the block and back, a bit wobbly, but staying erect.
Two weeks later my parents were departing for a long-anticipated two-week vacation to Acapulco, Mexico. As they left me and my older sisters in the care of white-haired Mrs. Hahn, my dad turned and cupped my face in his hands. “Be careful on your new bike, Dee Dee.” I nodded solemnly. Then, as an afterthought, he said, “Don’t take your bike up to Summit Hill (the street behind our house).” Immediately I thought: Why, I would absolutely fly going down that hill.
I was distracted in my first grade class the next day, for I kept thinking of how exciting it would be to fly down Summit Hill. As soon as I got home, I told Mrs. Hahn I was going out to ride my bike, and walked my bike to the top of Summit Hill. I had a moment of fear surveying the steep incline, and a brief warning flash of my father’s commandment, but still, I didn’t want to miss the thrill. So I jumped on, barreled down, didn’t make the turn, and plowed into a tree in Rolf’s yard. I vaguely remember adults yelling, sirens wailing, someone lifting me onto something hard, and finally awaking in enormous pain in a hospital bed. My parents were called and though they had just unpacked, they re-packed, left their hotel on the beach, and returned on the next plane back. (There were only propeller planes for the public then – and it was a long trip from Acapulco to West Bend, Wisconsin.) I was afraid Dad would be fiercely angry, but I was such a sorry sight that he simply cradled me and wept.
The law can inspire us to do wrong.
But the “law” itself is not wrong. Dad was right when he told me to be careful on my bike and forbade me from riding down Summit Hill. And the commandments of our heavenly Father are true and righteous altogether. Each one will protect us, guide us, and lead us into a flourishing life.
So what was wrong?
1. Secular programs and all the world religions except Christianity offer half the solution — just say no to immoral/hurtful behavior. This is not without value.
A. Give an example of how hearing about painful consequences, perhaps in the secular world, has, indeed, helped you to restrain yourself from a particular behavior.
B. Give an example of how hearing a rule or a “law” has actually boomeranged and inspired sinful thoughts that gave birth to sinful actions.
2. Listen to one of these three sermons and report.
Last week I gave an assignment as “Extra Credit” to listen to this sermon by Tim Keller on Jeremiah 2. Anne pointed out it was free, which I hadn’t realized! Therefore, I’m giving you the link again. Listen, if you didn’t, and share a few of the things you learned. http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=17304&ParentCat=6
If you are new to us and haven’t heard the basic sermon on idolatry: here’s that link. http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/removing-idols-heart
If you have listened to both, listen to this and report: http://sermons2.redeemer.com/sermons/christ-our-life
ALL THE ABOVE SERMONS ARE FREE!
OUR OWN DEAR REBECCA HAS MADE A VIDEO FOR US SUMMING UP THE HEART OF THIS STUDY — HOW WE CAN’T JUST REMOVE OUR IDOLS, BUT MUST ARISE AND GO TO JESUS — IN HIS ARMS ARE TEN THOUSAND CHARMS. THIS WOULD BE A GREAT WAY FOR YOU TO OPEN YOUR HEART TO HIM IN CONTEMPLATION. HERE IS THE LINK:
3. Read James 1:13-15 carefully.
A. Who is not to blame when we are tempted, according to verse 13?
B. What is to blame?
The phrase “our own desires” is another way to identify idols of the heart.
The KJV translates this noun, “desire,” as “lust.” The Greek word is epithumia, which sounds like an epi-disease, a terrible plague, and that is a helpful word association, for our “over-desires” can destroy us. It is not wrong to desire food, sex, money, fun, or friendship – but when it becomes an “over-desire,” more important to you than anything else, it destroys your soul like AIDS or Cholera destroys your body. This epi-desire, this idolatrous longing, reaches out from within your soul, and lures you into temptation and away from your one True Lover. It is easily seduced by lies in order to get what it really wants. We take a good gift and make it an ultimate gift, thereby ignoring the warnings to keep it within God-given boundaries.
We have a desire for comfort, control, affirmation — a desire that is bigger at times than our desire for God — so that lures us away from God.
4. To help you see your epi-desires, answer both of these:
A. What do you think you must have for life to be meaningful and fulfilling?
B. What, if you lost it, do you think might make you not want to live?
Then James uses a Greek word from which the fishing word “lure” comes to explain the power of our idols over us.
But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words explains:
BEING ALERT IS HALF THE BATTLE
Fishermen have discovered the best bait is that which really looks like something fish would eat in the water. This lure in the picture to the left actually swims. Would a fish swim toward the lure even if he knew it would destroy him? Would we swim to a lure even if we knew it would destroy us? (We might, as we have learned in Jeremiah 2, for our idols drive us as strongly as a sexual attraction.) But we might not — opening our eyes to the fact that our idols are not good but are lures to our destruction might actually stop us.
6. Share a time during this study when realizing that your idol was a destructive desire helped you turn around and swim the other way.
CHRISTIANITY OFFERS YOU ANOTHER SOLUTION
7. I want you to read a famous essay. It is Thomas Chalmers: The Expulsive Power of a New Affection. We’re going to spend two weeks on it. This week print it off and give it a first reading. Underline as you read. Share one or two thoughts from it here. Here is the link.
7. Remember to report on your sermon — what do you remember?
8. What is this week’s take-a-way?
MEETING OUR BLOGGERS!
This week we will me Angela! Angela is another blogger I’ve had the privilege to meet. A friend told me about her, that she was a dynamic young woman who had a real heart for the Lord and ministry — and that she wanted to meet me. When I was speaking in Chattanooga, she was able to join the committee at dinner, which was great. There were a lot of people and voices, but still, I could see something special and unique about Angela. Since she has joined us on our blog (and I’m so glad) she has offered wisdom, some great internet resources, and has encouraged us in so many ways. I have discovered that Angela is an author and a speaker. I looked at her blog and found so many great things — including wonderful book recommendations. Please check her out!
From Angela Parsley
I love my family. I have been married to my high school sweetheart for 16 years and we have two
beautiful daughters, 7 and 9 years of age. I am blessed to get to stay home and homeschool them.
I love women’s ministry from girls to older women) and am passionate about people knowing
God’s word and living life the way God intended especially in times of trial. Much of my ministry
to others is encouraging them online or in person. I love speaking to large groups of women but
what I love best is meeting one on one with them over coffee. To serve this desire my husband
and I founded Refresh My Soul Ministries where we work to encourage others through speaking,
writing, and helping online or in person. It can be found at http://www.refreshmysoulblog.blogspot.com
I have been really blessed by this study on idolatry. When I first started it I was at a place in my
life of great drought. I have a daughter with special needs that is an invisible illness so it is not
apparent to others. I struggled much with needing others approval. My thought life was really out
of control. I wanted people to think I was a good mom. As we went through the study I realized
that all that matters is God’s approval. Am I disciplining and training her in the instruction of the
Lord? Then I am being obedient. I need to let go of the rest and watch God work in His timing not
mine. It does not matter what it looks like to others. God’s approval is all I need.
9. Please take a look at Angela’s blog, some of her past comments in this blog, and encourage her!
We will complete our study of Jeremiah 2 this week, where the images for idolatry are so sexual, that translators are bashful about translating literally. Idolatry is adultery, is, “getting into bed with other lovers.” So of course we grieve and push away the Spirit of God.
All week long let us be alert to our “Shy Lover,” and open ourselves to Him when He comes. He may quicken your Spirit through His Word. When that happens, slow down and worship. He may speak to you through artwork. Contemplate this week’s painting, look at the passage from John 8, and if He quickens you, slow down and let it lead you into contemplative prayer. He may speak to you through gifts, as He did with Anne when she was at the farmer’s market – with a bag full of beautiful peaches for $2 – slow down and lift your arms in thanks. He may speak to you through music — take times of quiet and of music, so He may come. He may speak to you through suffering, as He comes to comfort and speak His promises to your soul. Slow down, and walk with Him. Tell us how He came to you and how you responded.
1. Meditate on the painting, the emotions portrayed. How does it speak to you? (Based on John 8:1-11)
2. Read Jeremiah 2:14-20 where God pleads with Israel (and with us) using the language of intervention, attempting to break through our denial. Sin looks good, our idols beckon — but they bring enormous pain.
A. What questions are asked in verse 14. The point?
B. What question is asked in verse 17? The point?
C. How does He plead in verse 19. What is the truth about our idols long-term?
SIN AS ADULTERY
In Jeremiah 2:20 God paints a word picture so vivid that translators are reticent to translate it literally. Tim Keller says that literally it should be:
On every high hill, and under every spreading tree, you spread your legs.
“God isn’t using this language to shock,” Keller says, “but to teach. There is an attraction going on at the spiritual level every bit as powerful as the sexual attraction at the physical level.” Derek Kidner, likewise, says that what some translators translate “bowed down” is better rendered “sprawled out,” as The New English Bible does:
Instead, you gave yourself to other gods on every high hill
and under every green tree,
like a prostitute sprawls out before her lovers.
Adultery is a powerful word picture for sin, for idolatry, because this language awakens us to the truth that sin is not breaking the rules but breaking God’s heart. It is getting into bed with other lovers — and of course He withdraws.
3. What is the picture in Jeremiah 2:20? (Find a similar picture in Jeremiah 3:2) How do these speak to you?
SIN AS ADDICTION
Jeremiah uses a disturbing word picture – of an animal in heat who simply cannot be corralled, of camels in heat who have left tracks all over the desert, looking to mate.
Look at the tracks you’ve left behind in the valley.
How do you account for what is written in the desert dust-
Tracks of a camel in heat, running this way and that,
tracks of a wild donkey in rut,
Sniffing the wind for the slightest scent of sex.
Who could possibly corral her!
On the hunt for sex, sex, and more sex-
insatiable, indiscriminate, promiscuous.
Jeremiah 2:23-24 (MSG)
4. Meditate on the above word picture. What does it tell you about the attraction of sin?
5. Have you ever had experience with an animal in heat? If so, what did you learn?
When I was seven, our springer spaniel was going through her first heat. My parents, under the advice of the vet, had decided to wait to have her spayed until she was a year old. They did not, however, want her to have puppies. So when they were going out for a few hours, my older sisters and I got stern instructions from Dad: “Keep Chloe INSIDE. No matter how badly she wants out, DON’T, UNDER ANY CONDITIONS, LET HER OUT.” My sisters obeyed, but I “half-obeyed.” I felt sorry for her as she whimpered and pawed at the door, so I decided to take her to the second story porch which ran between my bedroom and the garage roof. There was a four foot railing and a long drop to the ground, so I was sure Chloe would be corralled. But when a male boxer appeared yipping below, Chloe became frantic: circling, crying, and suddenly clawing her way up the shingles on the garage roof. I grabbed her around the middle, trying to hold onto her, but she suddenly had Herculean strength. She squirmed out of my grasp and leapt from the roof to the driveway. Somehow she survived, mated, and bequeathed our family with a large litter of springer/boxer puppies.
We have an attraction to sin that is as strong as the sexual attraction. Let it in, and it develops a life of its own that is driven, dangerous, and destructive. When Cain would not repent of his jealousy, it grew, and he murdered his brother. When we do not flee temptation but flirt with it, then the beast is in, and we cry out with Paul:
I do not understand my own actions.
For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
I DO THE VERY THING I HATE
6. What do the Israelites say in Jeremiah 2:25?
7. Have you felt that way? Have you felt the bondage of addiction to an idol? If so, share.
Once we have allowed our idols in, they have a hold over us as strong as the hold of drugs. They make us do what we do not want to do.
We are adulterers and adulteresses, we have given in to temptation, and it has slipped its chains over us.
Recognizing our “idolatry/adultery” is the first step. We have seen the beast. But how do we tame such a strong and determined animal that is prowling about in our hearts?
Often the approach in both the world and in the church is to scold ourselves, using the approach of the “law.” I’ve done it. I’ve slapped my own hand when I’ve reached for the chips, saying, “Bad Dee Dee.” I’ve scolded my heart when I’ve been tempted to sin — to exaggerate, to manipulate. No! You are a Christian! What I have found is that this may hold me back temporarily, but only temporarily. Idols cannot be removed — they must be replaced. If I want the Spirit of God to come to me, fill me, bathe me in His love — then I must get out of bed with my lovers and stay out.
I need something stronger. This is where we are headed — but I’ll give you a taste of it right now.
Instead of scolding our hearts, we must melt our hearts with the Gospel. The Gospel HAS THE POWER TO wither our idols, loosen their grasp, and transform us. WE MUST KEEP REMEMBERING HOW DANGEROUS SIN IS — IT CAUSED THE DEATH OF CHRIST — BUT HOW MUCH HE LOVES US — FOR HE DIED FOR US. THIS IS THE GOSPEL
Here’s something that may melt your heart.
THE PUNISHMENT FOR ADULTERY
It’s sobering, but in the Mosaic law adultery was a capital offense. Moses writes:
If a man commits adultery with the wife of his neighbor, both the adulterer and the adulteress shall be put to death.
This is how seriously God regards adultery. (This law became distorted by priests and religious leaders who would put only the woman to death but let the man go free. Hosea 4:14 speaks to this double standard and Jesus would not cooperate with it when they brought just the woman caught in adultery to Him in John 8.) Adultery, whether you are male or female, is regarded as a capital offense.
So here is the dilemma.
God loves us, even though we have run to our idols, even though we are adulterers and adulteresses. He wants us back – yet the just punishment is that we be put to death. So what did He do? He took our sin. He took the punishment an adulterer deserves. He died in my place, paying the price for my adultery. Justice has been executed, so He can have me back. Despite my infidelities, He loves me. HE LOVES ME — I MUST TRUST THAT — AND LET HIM REPLACE MY IDOLS.
This is what we must speak to our souls. The Gospel. This will melt our hearts. I remember when Rebecca saw it and prayed:
Oh God, I am just like this adulteress and I don’t want to be anymore. I don’t want to get in bed with other lovers. Yet I am so grateful and confident that when I do you will pursue me! Oh God such love ravished out on a person like me, I can’t contain it…I can’t fathom it, but I can worship You…
Rebecca has experienced tremendous success in seeing her idols lose their power over her. She is grasping the power of the Gospel.
So often we think of the “Gospel” as the ABC’s of Christianity – the way you get in. But the Gospel is the A to Z of Christianity. It is not only the way in, it’s everything. It’s the secret not only of overcoming our layers of bondage but of bringing us into an intimacy with Jesus that only a fraction of believers have known.
8. What comments do you have on the above?
9. Write a prayer of thanks to the Lord for paying for your adultery.
EXTRA CREDIT: TIM KELLER’S SERMON ON JEREMIAH 2 — HE HAS FOUR, BUT THE ONE I LIKE BEST IS HOW SIN MAKES US ADDICTS. IT IS 2.50 AND YOU CAN GET TO IT WITH THIS LINK: http://sermons.redeemer.com/store/index.cfm?fuseaction=product.display&product_ID=17304&ParentCat=6
10. Do you have comments on the above sermon?
11. What is your take-a-way this week?
12. Read the below and then bless Cyndi!!!!
MEETING OUR BLOGGERS: CYNDI!
I hope I get to meet many of you face to face as I did Cyndi this last December when I spoke at Christmas Teas in Ohio. (I love to speak at Christmas Teas — women go all out decorating, inviting their friends who don’t know the Lord, and hearts are so tender.) I was seated at this beautifully decorated table in an enormous room filled with live trees with tiny white lights when Cyndi appeared — energetic, darling, talking a mile a minute. This is what I remember — Cyndi — feel free to correct! :-) This was all one sentence without taking a breath, as I recall. :-) “Dee I heard you speak about how you adopted your daughter and how you didn’t want to but your husband heard her crying and how you did and how your older daughter was jealous and now I’ve adopted two special needs girls because you inspired me and my daughter is jealous and these girls can be so challenging too but so darling but also so challenging and one of them is having a fit right now and sometimes i really don’t know what to do and I am wondering what you might say to me and I’m so glad to be here tonight….”
Later, during dinner, Cyndi came over and offered to hold my daughter’s baby so that Anne could eat. That was wonderful. I saw such a servant heart in her.
Since she’s been with us, Cyndi has gone through three major emergencies with children, has called out, and seen God come and walk beside her family in suffering.
Cyndi is the woman everyone is drawn to — the life of the party — and I’m so very glad she is part of our group!!!!
Cyndi’s whole family
Cyndi and Abby (the daughter who was in the hospital)
Cyndi’s Luke and Ellie
Cyndi’s Lilly (She’s the one who just had a badly broken arm)
I am a stay at home homeschooler mom so most of my time is spent with them. We have adopted 2 special needs little girls from China so that has also taken a lot of my time When I am not at home I love to go to Bible study and I lead one every summer. If I get a chance I love to speak about being a mom with purpose and a wife of grace and humility. My friend and I lead a group called TAC HOME (toledo area christian homeschoolers offering moms encouragement). I also love my role as “host” on Sunday mornings for our children ministry.
Pride and impatience are the things that keep my on my knees, well that and being a mom!!! hospitality and exhortation are my biggest spiritual gifts (my friends say making sweet tea is my biggest but im not sure that would be considered a spiritual gift…) I also love to encourage people in the adoption process and serve on the board of our adoption agency AWAA.
About the blog:
I have loved getting to know Dee and all the woman on this blog. Understanding that control is an idol has really opened up a new area of freedom in my life. letting go of my need for perfection has meant that my life is so much more enjoyable and filled with laughter and joy. I have been pushed to my knees so many times during this study and God has used it to peal layer after layer of pride and self-sufficiency. This has left a tender skin that has led me to go to the tender balm of Jesus presence over and over again to sooth the sting. The thing I hate about this blog is that it always reveals yet another layer….thats getting a little annoying Dee, just sayin…
 Tim Keller, “How Sin Makes Us Addicts,” Sermon preached 2/14/09, www.redeemer.com
 Derek Kidner, The Message of Jeremiah, (Intervarsity Academic, Downer’s Grove, Il, 1987) p. 33, footnote.
The whole practice of “Lent” may be foreign to you if you are not a part of a high liturgical church. Like many Christian traditions, it can be rich, or it can be meaningless. I believe that together we can make it rich. It fits perfectly with where God has been leading us in overcoming the idols of our hearts. Idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced by Jesus, the True Lover of our Souls. That is what we will concentrate on during this holy time, and it is a perfect time for new people to join in. I encourage you to invite your friends — you may find friends from high liturgical churches (Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Episcopal, and others) particularly interested, and they could join this Ash Wednesday or before. Pray and see if God brings someone to mind or across your path.
The following is a free sermon that I would love everyone to listen to from Tim Keller. It’s called Removing Idols of the Heart and here is the link to paste in your browser.
I also have a U-Tube video I’d love for you to watch: Be Thou My Vision video
PART I. REVIEW
If you have just joined us, you would be helped by reading some of the past posts, for we began this subject with the start of 2011 with A Heart of Flesh. However, I don’t want to overwhelm you either, so this summary may suffice.
Why are some Christians continually defeated by the same sins and others set free?
Change occurs when a believer recognizes he or she is an idolater. Though we struggle with many “near sins,” behind every “near” sin is a deep stone idol producing that near sin. There are three deep idols:
For example, someone with the deep idol of SECURITY/COMFORT could struggle with near sins like gluttony, laziness, or stinginess. She might attack gluttony with a diet, laziness with a better alarm clock, or stinginess with a tithing budget. But because she has not addressed the root problem of idolatry, that deep idol will cry out when he is restricted, persisting until he defeats her diet, her alarm clock, or her budget. He will lie to her, promising to meet her needs for security and comfort, and will do so initially, but then bring her into bondage again. Eventually she may despair, crying, “It is hopeless!”
But it is not hopeless. Those who recognize their root problem have experienced the transforming power of the Stone Cutter, of the One True Lover of their souls. Idols cannot be removed, only replaced. When we learn from His Word how He can be what our idols can never truly be, and trust Him to be that, we experience transformation into a heart of flesh. We are not only set free from those cruel stones that actually cut us to pieces, but we experience intimacy with the living and breathing God who is the fulfillment of all desire.
1. What impresses you from the above, and why?
2. If you have just joined us, introduce yourself. Though you may not know or be ready to share, be asking yourself what stone, what deep idol might be producing your near sins. If you have any insight, share it here.
3. If you have been with us, can you encourage newcomers by sharing, briefly, what God has shown you and how you are beginning to see progress?
PART II. LENT
Lent is a Christian tradition that though not commanded in Scripture can have some great benefits. It is meant to be a holy time of contemplation and a time of growth. Unfortunately, like so many Christian traditions, it has often degenerated into ritual without understanding. Individuals give up candy, or meat, or Facebook – without realizing the purpose. It actually was meant to be a step toward removing idols of the heart and replacing them with Jesus — but too often, that has been lost. It was meant to be a time of remembering how frail we are (on Ash Wednesday, which is this week, many receive the sign of the cross on their forehead as a reminder that they are dust, and to dust they will return.) This is thoroughly scriptural, to remember that we are like the grass of the field, and to therefore set our affections on things above. But as we have been learning, idols cannot be removed, they can only be replaced. Unless we replace them with putting on Christ, we may actually be in worse shape than when we began.
1. On Ash Wednesday, Christians are reminded that their lives are fragile and fleeting. Truly, we should know this, but are often in denial. What do the following passages say, and what are your reflections on each?
A. Ecclesiastes 7:2
B. Psalm 90:9-12
2. Read Colossians 3:1-4
A. What, according to verse 1, are we to seek, and why?
B. A key secret to success is in verse 2. What is it?
C. Meditate on verses 3-4 in your translation, and also, as paraphrased in The Message:
Your old life is dead. Your new life, which is your real life-even though invisible to spectators-is with Christ in God. He is your life. When Christ (your real life, remember) shows up again on this earth, you’ll show up too-the real you, the glorious you. Meanwhile, be content with obscurity, like Christ.
D. What truth are we told, and what, therefore, should be our response?
PART III. WEEKLY GOAL AND GOD HUNT
Here we get to the really exciting part. I want you to set a two part goal each week. The first part is to remove the idol, the second is to replace it with Christ. I would rather do a new goal each week than for the whole of Lent, seeing each Sunday as a fresh start, culminating in Easter Sunday. Choose one stone a week, and it may be the same stone for all of Lent. Let me give you an example for each of the three deep idols, and then you be still before God and set your own two part goal and share it with the others. Then, give us any reports of how you see God on the move.
A. POWER/CONTROL Perhaps you have seen your near sin of nagging, manipulation, or sarcasm and realize your deep idol is POWER/CONTROL. It is good to stop saying those kind of things to a spouse, child, mother…but now, replace the idol by putting on Christ, by being loving, by praying, by saying what will build up.
B. AFFIRMATION/APPROVAL Perhaps you have seen how deeply you want men to approve of you and it leads to the near sins of anxiety, exaggeration, or addiction to Facebook. It is good to recognize this, for that is half the battle — but now you must bask in the approval of Christ. Perhaps you could do that by memorizing one of the great hymns about his love, like Be Thou My Vision, And Can It Be, or Deep Deep Love. Or begin memorizing Psalm 103. Use these words to speak to your soul.
C. SECURITY/COMFORT. Perhaps you realize your near sin is over-eating or over-spending. It is good to plan a healthy eating program or a budget, but you must address that deep idol by allowing Jesus to be your security/comfort. If it is spending, then substitute the time you would spend shopping with reading good books or strong Christian fellowship. If it is eating, you may want to not only substitute fruit for sweets, but to also sit down with tea, an orange, and a rich book like The Sacred Romance, Bonhoeffer, or Redeeming Love. If you feel led to go on a partial fast from food, then use that time to feast on the bread of life. Run to the psalms or put on your ipod and praise music and walk. Let Him meet your need. He takes longer than does spending or eating, but they turn on you, and He will not — instead, He will satisfy you as you wait on Him.
4. Set a goal, just for this week, on what you would like removed and how you will replace it. (I think it is better to set goals on a weekly basis than for the whole seven weeks of Lent.) What is your goal?
5. Report on how God is on the move! This can be so rich as you share your growth, the combustion cycle, as Keller says, of repentance and faith. Repenting of the idol, trusting the true God.
But for now, I want to prepare your hearts with material from some current writing projects. I’m working on a book with the tentative title “Every Love Story Whispers His Name.”
For the next five days, I’d like to contemplate the first love story in Scripture, the first love song — to see if you hear the music. The song of creation.
My granddaughter, Analise, is with me now in Wisconsin. A few summers ago she asked me to take her picture “rejoicing” in front of the sunset. She hears the music.
Both Rob Bell and Tim Keller have powerful sermons explaining that Genesis 1 is not prose, but poetry. If we read it as prose, we misinterpret it. (Hermeneutics tells us we must interpret Scripture according to its genre, or we will interpret it incorrectly.) Genesis 1 is not asking “How was the world created,” as prose might, “but why was the world created?”
Let’s look together. See if you can hear the music.
1. Poetry is filled with rhythm and repetition. Find some examples of this in Genesis 1.
2. What does Job 38:7 tell us was happening at Creation?
3. There is evidence of the Trinity “dancing in delight.” The early church fathers had a word for this: Perichorises: the choreography of the Trinity. Each member of the Trinity was dancing around the Others, glorifying the Others. Find evidences in Genesis 1 for the Trinity.
4. All of creation was dancing, saying, “Our Father loves us! Our Father says we are good!” Though sin has brought dissonance to the song, you can still hear the music. Brent Curtis wrote:
Someone or something has romanced us from the beginning with creekside singers and pastel sunsets, with the austere majesty of snowcapped mountains and the poignant flames of autumn colors telling us of something—or someone—leaving, with a promise to return…
Step outside right now. Listen, look, take it in. What do you hear? What do you see? Even in the midst of a city, if that is where you live, you should still be able to hear and see the music, the dance — somehow.
5. The Trinity decided to expand the fellowship, the community — so God said, “Let us make man in our image.” Now we are called to join in bringing glory to God. Genesis 1 answers, not “How was the world created — but why?” Is this a new way of looking at Genesis 1 to you?
6. Why was the world created? Why were you created?
7. Share your reflections and applications for today.
The lie that Luther battled during the Reformation was
“you have to earn God’s love.”
The lie that we battle during suffering, and that “this world with devils filled” whispers to us constantly is:
“you have lost God’s love.”
That’s an easy lie to believe. When you are suffering, if you have an awareness of sin, you think, “That’s right. I’m an idiot. I don’t deserve God’s love. ”
C. S. Lewis wrote “Screwtape Letters” in which the devil (Screwtape) writes from hell to his apprentice, “Wormwood” on earth. My daughter Sally and I went to the play that has recently been made out of this classic book. Max McLean played Screwtape, and a female gymnast played a little demon who helped him down in hell. She would lithely climb a rope ladder to send and receive letters to earth via a bank tube. When Wormwood’s response had good news — that the client had believed the lie and was backing away from God, she would leap from the top of the ladder and do cartwheels and flips joyfully across the stage. But if the news was bad, if the client was actually trusting God in the midst of suffering and pressing into Him, she would shriek, claw the air as she fell, and somehow land safely, like a cat with nine lives.
My daughter Sally has suffered a great deal in her young life. When we went to the play she had recently made it through a long and severe depression, but was then battling with infertility. When we left, we were both contemplative. I asked her, “Honey — what have you learned in these last five years of tremendous suffering?”
She said, “I have learned that God is good and that God is in control. If He gives me the desire of my heart, I will be so thankful. But if He does not…” And then she screeched and clawed the air — and we both laughed.
And though this world with devils filled
should threaten to undo us
we will not fear, for God has willed
His truth to triumph through us
The prince of darkness grim
We tremble not for him,
His rage we can endure,
for lo, his doom is sure
One little word shall fell him
Screwtape Letters was inspired by the book of Job. We will return to Job so that we can see how though God gave Satan a lot of rope — it was only enough to hang himself.
Questions — feel free to do one or two a day. They are meaty, so chew slowly.
1. Mike Mason, in The Gospel According to Job, says it is unusual to be rich and righteous, but it can happen. How do you see this in Job’s life in Job 1:1-5? Look carefully at phrases and practices.
2. What did Satan believe about Job according to Job 1:9-11? Can you see, when you look at your own heart, why Satan’s statement might have some legitimacy to it? How does loss reveal our hearts?
3. God is omniscient, so knew Job loved Him for Himself — but Satan did not know this. Summarize Job’s losses in chapter 1 and his response.
4. (Challenge question) In the whole book of Job — God never explains to Job why he is suffering. Why, do you think? (If any of you love Tim Keller like I do — I recommend his series on Job: Job — a Path through Suffering at Redeemer.com — Keller explains why God couldn’t tell Job.)
5. Sing Matt Redmond’s Blessed Be Thy Name — a contemporary version of Job’s response. (I am confident you techy sisters can find the lyrics or video versions!) Share your contemplations.
6. Memorize verse 3 of A Mighty Fortress. Contemplations? One internet source if the blue letter Bible which will give you Scripture references for the lyrics for great hymns. Share your contemplations.
7. Do a little research on Screwtape Letters. Give us some background, some key points, some ways it has impacted you if you read it.
8. What was Job’s second test in Job 2:1-10? What was Satan’s thinking? How did Job respond?
9. What application does this have to your life?
Lord, I ask Your protection over my sisters as they work, for I know the enemy does not like to be exposed. You are greater, and we trust you. Give us wisdom, give us trust, and give us your quickening as we press into You. Thank You for each woman, and for her desire to know You, love You, and love her sisters.
In Jesus Name
P. S. If any of you are in driving distance of Kansas City, I’m giving a free retreat on The God of All Comfort with Amy Shreve on April 17th. More details and registration on my website. (They suggest a donation of $20 — but it really is a donation.) Love to have you fill up your car with friends and come!
It’s Ash Wednesday — a perfect time to begin in earnest to seek God, especially in the desert times.
We’re going to look at a psalm that I know can really help those of you in pain, those of you who are not sensing the presence of God, or those of you who long to be a comfort to others. It’s Psalm 42 and there are four vivid water pictures in it that can soothe and heal. The first is really a picture of no water — it’s a picture of the psalmist who identifies with a thirsty deer who has come all the way down the mountain, absolutely panting for water, but the river bed is dry!
He longs to sense the presence of God like that dying deer longs for water, but WHERE IS GOD???? Isn’t it comforting that God knows we will feel like this at times and gives us this picture? The psalmist says, in effect, “My only water is my tears, day and night.” (verse 3) That’s where some of you are, right now. God sees you, He understands, and He cares.
My prayer is that you will not give up. When I was preparing to write this chapter, “Deep Calls to Deep” I had an experience that was one of those rare moments when I absolutely knew the God who made the universe was speaking to me, and to you, my friends. Here it is, from The God of All Comfort:
I was at my cabin in Wisconsin, almost three years after Steve’s death. Here, I do not pull my shades at night for I love seeing the sun sink into the waves of Green Bay as I go to sleep. Sometimes I wake just before the dawn—and a very few blessed times I have opened my eyes to see the vague shapes of a doe and her fawn drinking deep draughts from the bay. They come silently, before the world awakens, hoping they are safe.
In the dawn’s dim light, I have tried, unsuccessfully, to photograph them. Even my best photo is simply shadowy shapes, which my dad claimed were just stumps in the water that my fertile imagination desired to be deer.
I have never seen them brave the open water when the sun is up.
Until the day I began researching the word pictures of Psalm 42—beginning with the image of the deer panting for living water. Though I am often suspicious of people who have constant God sightings, I must admit, this was a God sighting.
Sunday, July 22
Two years and nine months after Steve’s death
Thank You, Lord. I am amazed at what You just did for me, for the readers of the book I am planning to write. I want to record it now, lest I forget.
When I saw what a beautiful morning it was, with the lake like rose-colored glass, I decided to have my time with You on the dock. I was immersing myself in Psalm 42. I sang “As the Deer” and “All Who Are Thirsty.” I began reading various translations of verses 1-2 of the psalm, turning the phrases over in my mind, asking You to “quicken” me and help me see, when suddenly, I was startled by a large shape moving on my right, below me, on the beach.
The timing was so uncanny I thought at first I was imagining it. But no. There she was. A graceful doe, and right behind her, her fawn. Gentle steps clicking softly over the rocks, beside the dock, and into the water. Then they stood like statues, except I was so close I could see them breathing.
The doe was alert, her nose quivering. I feared she would smell me, prayed she wouldn’t. All was still, and I was frozen in my deck chair, holding my breath.
I was so aware that this was a gift from You. The overwhelming thought of Your mindfulness of me. Of this book and its readers. I knew there was something You wanted me to see—so I was as alert as the doe. I knew better than to try to get my camera. I stayed motionless, praying I would see, really see—through the living picture to the meaning.
She walked gently, her fawn followed—just barely into the water, ready, if necessary, to bolt. Then—the picture that will forever linger in my memory: she spread her long legs so as to reach the water, her long neck reaching down. Her fawn did the same. They drank and drank. Deep draughts.
A seagull cried and her head came up, ears taut. Then, soft head down again.
I shifted just a bit to see them better. My book, Derek Kidner’s commentary on the psalms, open to Psalm 42, fell from my deck chair. Her head came swiftly up and she bolted, her fawn scrambling after mother over the rocks.
I stood to watch them go—white tails disappearing into the woods. Gone. As if it never happened. Yet it did, and the picture lingers in my memory, this gift from You.
What did I see that I believe God meant for you and for me? I saw a deer so thirsty that she braved the danger of daylight and humans to come. I saw a deer in a position of prostrate piety—the same position that God is pleased to see in us in body, but certainly in heart, as we show how earnest we are to hear from Him.
Suffering is like salt, increasing our thirstiness. In grief, we can recognize that our thirst is for God and press harder into Him, still believing that He is sovereign, caring, and our only hope. Or we can look to quench our thirst through drugs, constant sleep, destructive relationships, or work. We can abuse our bodies through cutting, or overeating or undereating—hoping to make atonement or to gain control of lives out of control. But those “sources of water” are mirages that can neither quench our thirst nor soothe grieving souls.
Only God can do that. And God longs for us to thirst for Him as the deer thirsts for streams of water. The word pictures in the psalms ultimately point us, in a kaleidoscope of ways, to Jesus. But we will not see Him unless we come in prostrate piety, earnestly desiring the Spirit to open our eyes.
Come, like a thirsty deer.
Here’s your homework. I promise you this will minister to you if you come like a thirsty deer.
1. Read Psalm 42 in its entirety as an overview
A. What question does the psalmist keep asking of his soul? What does he tell his soul to do?
B. Find the four water pictures in the psalm. We’ll be looking at them in depth, for each is filled with meaning, but for now, simply find them and identify the verses they are in.
2. I’m hoping that many of you will download and listen to Tim Keller’s sermon on Psalm 42. It’s 2.50 so I realize some of you won’t be able to do it. But it is 2.50 well spent. Paste this into your browser and listen to it and give us your comments.
3. Some of the songs that might minister to you with this are:
As The Deer (but does this post shed new light on that) (Any fresh renditions you know of?)
All Who Are Thirsty (Kutlas and other groups do this beautifully)
Why Are You Downcast? (a group from India: Abney, Swapna… does it with wonderful water sounds)
The Deep Deep Love of Jesus (Many groups, and Amy Shreve’s is beautiful)
Give us your recommendations and thoughts.
4. If you are one who simply is not sensing the presence of God — tell us and we’ll pray for you.
5. If a verse pops out at you from Psalm 42, comment on it.
6. We talked about this psalm yesterday on Midday Connection — and also had a great interview with Elisa Stanford, on her feelings when her first child was born with Down’s Syndrome. If any of you listened and have a comment on that or anything in the interview, would love to hear it. (You can listen to past programs online.)
Praying for each of you!
You will hear me quoting this pastor often. Here he is, in the middle of New York City, which is arguably the most liberal and skeptical community in the United States – filled with people that Gallup says never go to church (young, intellectual, career-driven singles) and gaining their ear, seeing them come to Christ, and changing, yes, changing, New York City and the world.
His preaching is changing the way I speak, the way I think, and the intimacy I have with Jesus. In the next few blogs I’m going to tell you why – but you might want to listen for yourself. There are many free downloads to get you started.
To listen to a few, click here.