Imagine. You’ve just been called into the throne room of the Queen of England. After you are ushered into this huge but dark and somber place, you nervously await her arrival. You’ve never met a queen face-to-face before, and although you’ve dressed your best and tried to prepare yourself for the queen’s majestic appearance, you’re fearful of the unknown. And you wonder why you’re here. You’ve done nothing notable like a few other Americans who have been knighted (an unusual honor for a foreigner). So, you nervously wait.
Imagine how you would react when the throne room suddenly becomes brilliant with light, the Queen arrives in her full splendor, a sparkling crown on her head, followed by an entourage of richly clad servants, and accompanied by musicians offering great majestic music like nothing you’ve ever heard. Your senses are reeling with it all. Okay, how would you respond?
Whatever we might think about such an unlikely event, the prophet Isaiah describes just such an occasion in his own experience in our reading for today. Let some of these images impact your thinking as you visualize what Isaiah saw. . .
You might think the prophet would have raised his hands and shouted words of praise, echoing the seraphim. But no; instead he falls prostrate before the king, crying, “Woe is me. I am undone” (KJV). Or, in the words of the NLT “It’s all over! I am doomed, for I am a sinful man.” In abject humility and submission he acknowledges his lowly estate before the King.
Job had a similar experience when, after all his trials, sufferings, and discussions with friends, God appears to him. He responds, “I am unworthy … I put my hand over my mouth (Job 40:4) … My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes (42:5-6).
It seems that genuine worship begins with confession and repentance. The common response of Job and Isaiah was a full recognition of their unworthiness before the perfectly holy God. That ultimately leads to praise and a desire to serve the Lord.
Isaiah responded to God’s question, “Whom shall I send? Who will go for me?” Immediately, the prophet answers, “Here I am; send me.” But have you ever noticed the commission God gave him? Verses 9-10 record a message for the people predicting that, though they have eyes and ears, they will not see or hear the truth. Was he referring to the idols that would separate the chosen people from him? With such an outlook, would you want to preach to idol-worshipers?
Over the centuries people have made idols out of wood, stone, metal, and other materials. They’ve often given them eyes and ears, but they can’t see or hear. And those who worship those idols become like them; they have eyes and ears that don’t recognize the truth when it is given to them directly from God.
Lest we criticize idol-worshipers too quickly, we need to examine our own hearts. Jeremiah wrote, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9). Our new sermon series, “Idols of the Heart” will help us recognize the human tendency to make good things god things and to submit to gods we create for ourselves. We need to identify those issues in our own hearts that we have thought would satisfy us more than God but turn out to be “worthless idols.” We must forsake them, repent, and return to the only and all-sufficient God. jbd 11/5/18
Most Americans live in a culture of misplaced fear and misdirected desires. We fear heights, snakes, spiders, bees, bears, cancer, stock market crashes, the wrong politician being elected, and on and on. Our fears tend to focus on financial, physical, and political uncertainties.
George Washington, in his Farewell Address as President, expressed his greatest fear for American society: the loss of moral values. Even in his day, he was concerned about the shredding of eternal principles in the interest of power, popularity, and pleasure.
Meanwhile, the American Dream propels us onward. We desire success, wealth, fame, independence, convenience, pleasure, and on and on. The American Dream may be defined as reaching a point in life where you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, and can do everything you want to. And the sooner the better. No requirements, no limitations.
As Paul wrote his longest letter, he was thinking about the Roman Dream—the desires and fears of the people of his day. Though he doesn’t provide a list of what people feared, he makes clear what they didn’t fear: God. Though they knew God, and knew about his righteous decrees against pagan practices, they continued to pursue their shameful lusts and even approved others in doing them. Paul is remarkably explicit about the worst desire of the Roman Dream: “sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.”
In the book, The Altars Where We Worship, written just two years ago, there’s a chapter on each altar where Americans most often worship: body and sex, big business, entertainment, politics, sports, science and technology. The authors contend that religion in America is in crisis: it’s not that we no longer worship, it’s what we worship. We have “exchanged the glory of the immortal God” for our favorite desires and passions. Worship is supposed to involve sacrifice. But not at these altars: you can have it your way. No requirements, no limitations.
Paul makes clear that whether we’re Roman or American, there’s no place for altars to other gods. We need to recognize Almighty God’s unlimited power, his high standards, and the outpouring of his wrath on sinfulness. We must resist exchanging the glory of the Immortal God for idols, whether “images made to look like mortal man, birds, animals, or reptiles,” or idols of the heart.
APPLICATION: For you and me, which idols stand in the way of being fully devoted worshipers of the Immortal God? Are our deepest desires for the infinite joy God offers us? Paul said that God “will give to everyone according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor, and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger” (Rom 2:6). Which dream are we pursuing?
Looking at Jeremiah 17:1-10 we see that the effects of sin are far greater than the eyes of man can see. The wording that the Lord uses is graphic and paints a clear picture of the evil and damaging effects of sin. Jeremiah spoke the hard truth to a people who would not listen. Often we can harden our hearts as well to those who speak the truth of our sin to us. We can close our ears just as the people of Judah did. When you’re walking on the edge it can be hard to see that you’re on the edge.
We need these people in our lives because sin has lasting effects and affects more than just the sinner (1-4). The Lord says that the sin of Judah is engraved upon the tablet of their hearts and not only affects them but also their children. He says He will take away their heritage and they will serve their enemies. The consequences of sin don’t just fall upon the sinner but on those surrounding them as well.
The flesh is fallen and will not sustain (5-6). He makes it clear that those who put their trust in the flash will not be sustained. They are like a shrub in the desert, they will run dry. People are fallen and if our trust is put in ourselves or each other it will never last. Nothing done in the strength of the fallen flesh will remain.
Only trust placed in the Lord will bear fruit (7-8). He contrasts the trust in the flesh and the trust in Him by painting the picture of a dry desert shrub and tree planted by a stream. Even in the hard times and dry seasons the tree continues to thrive and bear fruit because it is sustained by Something greater than itself. When we put our trust in the Lord we are blessed because He provides all of our needs and never fails us.
As famously spoken in verse 9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Man cannot know the heart, only God can (9-10). Our hearts cannot be trusted or known, only God can truly know them. So why wouldn’t we trust Him?
I don’t have to wonder what Jeremiah would have thought of a Carnegyesque model of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” Pastor Kip pointed out last Sunday that Paul could have chosen to avoid being persecuted by dismissing God’s calling for his life. So too Jeremiah could have used his literary gift to become a popular poet instead of submitting to be the fiery mouthpiece of God. His calling was to warn Judah of looming judgment because of prolonged idolatry.
Repeatedly God chose to reaffirm the timid-by-nature Jeremiah that He had commissioned this man to courageously confront the widespread pagan practices largely initiated during King Manasseh’s long and evil reign. God was deeply grieved, but His anger had boundaries and He didn’t annihilate His chosen people.
Is God any less grieved when He sees rationalized idolatry in today’s churches? We can read Old Testament stories of how God graciously brought His people into the fertile Promised Land. Do church goers also just read about Jesus bringing us into the Kingdom of God by His grace, but then not allow the Holy Spirit to transform our hearts into giving God our allegiance?
Jeremiah was commissioned to speak truth to his fellow countrymen of whom less than a handful were considered to be his friends. You and I have been commissioned to make disciples. What does this look like? Can a “nice guy” or a “sweet lady” risk being deemed judgmental or prudish to courageously love the workaholic or narcissistic fellow believer in ways that would expose the need for repentance and then be followed by coming alongside them on the journey of faith and sanctification? In turn, we want to have spacious hearts to receive the gift of correction from others without defensiveness or feelings of shame. Even Jeremiah said in chapter 1o, “Correct me O Lord . . . .”
I’m sure this new sermon series will bring to light many different idols we devote ourselves to that have the common denominator of pride/self love. Let’s be preparing ourselves to surrender to the only One who can adequately fill our God-shaped void.
October 30, 2018
“Daddy,” the little kids yelled when he arrived home from work, throwing their tiny arms around his legs. “Up me, Daddy,” they would beg to be wrapped in a hug in his strong arms. The little ones would drop their toys when Daddy arrived. Their squeals of delight echoed around the house, they bypassed favorite toys, every distraction on their way to throw themselves into Daddy’s arms.
When I invited Jesus into my heart at age 4, I experienced the same intense delight and awe for my Heavenly Father. I worshipped at his feet with a childish abandon. Then the first blush of my joy and excitement about Jesus began to wane. Just as the excitement about Daddy’s arrival home lost its thrill for the teenagers in our house, my abandoned delight in Abba Daddy dissipated.
God’s covenant people lost sight of the wonder of Yahweh and His rescue of them. They had rejoiced when the God had saved them with the parting of the Red Sea. They had reveled in God’s provision as they journeyed, water and food provided by Yahweh. In Exodus 32, we find God’s chosen people becoming restless. They had observed other nations around them and had seen that these nations fashioned gods with their hands. Gods they could touch, gods that looked like living, breathing objects, but were cold as stone.
How we would laugh today if we came to church and there was an oversized model of a basketball in front of our auditorium. We would spend the morning praising the spherical wonder of its shape. We would honor how it had filled our hearts with pleasure as we bounced it down the court. How would you react if you arrived home from work and found a billboard sized credit card with neon lights planted in your front yard? All the neighbors would cluster around it, admiring its shine and its ability to provide for you. They also had similar cards they relied on to rescue them in times of need and crisis. Your family would gather around sing its praises as the needs and desires of your family were met by its wonder. None of them seeing the subtle chains attaching to you as debt enslaved you.
These seem like outrageous idols and yet how many of us run to wrap our arms around “golden calves” that we hope will satisfy us and fill our empty hearts. How do we lose sight of God’s waiting arms as he calls to us? Why did the Israelites forget their love of Yahweh? Why were they willing to exchange the wrapping of their worshipful hearts around Yahweh’s neck for a golden calf? God’s chosen people practiced syncretism: the combining of faith in Yahweh with pagan tradition. They fell prey to the cultural influences around them.
Where have I allowed the culture around me to shape truth instead of the truth of God’s Word shaping me? Where have I exchanged the worship of Abba Daddy for a sham of worshipping a tangible pleasure? Where have I chosen to rely on something other than God to meet my needs? It is so easy to melt into relying on food, friends, temporary pleasures instead of running into the arms of my Heavenly Father. The Israelites were quickly brought into a painful accounting when Moses came off the mountain. In Exodus 23:20, we see that Moses burned their golden calf to ashes and then made them drink it. Their trying to mix pagan cultural practices with the worship of the One true God was never an acceptable exchange to God.
Isaiah poses this question to the Israelites in Isaiah 44:19-20 “…shall I bow down to an idol? Such a person feeds on ashes, a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say; Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?” The Israelites were deluded, they were distracted and willing to trade away God’s truth for a cheap imitation. What ashes you feeding on, what do you put your trust in rather than resting in Abba Daddy’s welcoming arms? Today choose to leave behind the distractions, burn your “golden calf” that you have relied on to rescue you, to bring you pleasure, and turn to your Heavenly Father and be embraced in His truth.
It’s World Series time! A lot of people will be glued to their TV sets until it’s all over and a champion has been declared. And for those who are not die-hard baseball fans, there’s always football. Both college and pro teams are in the middle of their schedules, and the prognosticators are already predicting who will be in the playoffs. America seems to be a sports-crazy society. Just think of the outlandish salaries the top athletes are paid—to play games!
We don’t really have to look far, however, to see the grip that sports has on our culture. How many parents are taking their kids to innumerable soccer, football, volleyball games—did I mention the practices? And so many of those activities are now scheduled on Sundays. How often do we keep our kids out of children’s and youth activities at church so they can compete? But it isn’t just sports that have captured so much of our time and attention. There are dance, guitar lessons, children’s theater—the list is almost endless
We would probably agree that those activities are all good things. For Christians, who want to please God as devoted followers of Jesus, the question is how do these good activities affect our relationship with God and our service for him. It’s always a matter of priorities, isn’t it? Our new sermon series, “Idols of the Heart,” addresses “When good things become god things.” So, it’s a good time to evaluate our commitments.
An idol is anything or anyone that captures our hearts, minds, and affections more than God. When we do give into them, we turn a good thing into a god thing. Idols may be made of metal, stone, or wood, but they can be more intangible, too. The prophet Ezekiel quoted God who condemned Israel because they “set up idols in their hearts” (14:4). He further said, “This is adultery against me” (16:18). What might be the idols of our hearts today?
If someone were to question our involvements (or our kids’) in extra-curricular activities, would we be offended? Would we be willing to evaluate the time, the financial resources, and the other sacrifices we may be making for those involvements? Do our priorities reflect a strong commitment to spiritual things? It might be helpful to re-consider our priorities.
When you read of the condemnation of Israel’s idolatry in the Old Testament (Ezekiel 16, for example), you begin to understand what God expects of his children: complete commitment to him. That requires making priorities in the use of time and resources; and sometimes the choice to do or not to do is hard. And it’s not a new problem. It began in the Garden of Eden.
God created Adam and Eve in his own image for the purposes of fellowship with him and to care for his creation. He provided all they could ever need for a joyful, peaceful, and productive life. And he made only one restriction: “you must not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil” (Gen. 2:7). It must have been a beautiful tree, promising really good tasting fruit. We know it was good because everything God made was good.
Adam and Eve disobeyed God and ate of the forbidden tree. Like them, we too often see the good things God has given us (including things like sports, music, and the arts) and care more for them than the one who gave them to us. In other words, we love the creation (e.g. the luscious tree of good and evil for Adam and Eve or basketball, dance, theater, ___________ [fill in the blank] for us) more than the Creator. Can these things become idols to us?
Perhaps we’ve outgrown the age when we were our children’s #1 fan, more than willing to make the sacrifices necessary to keep them involved in their chosen activities. They’re on their own now, making their own decisions about involvements for them and their children. So, we need to address these issues for ourselves. Are we making good things God things? How much time and money am I spending to attend games (no longer cheap), amusements, and travels? Are they taking me away from worship, study, and fellowship times? How am I using my discretionary time—an especially good question for those who may no longer have full time jobs? Am I reading good books or attending seminars or workshops to advance my spiritual growth? Am I involved as much as I could be in serving and encouraging others both in and outside the church? This would be a good time to consider how I can be more active in my community as a helper, giving my time for worthwhile involvements. What’s my idol? jbd 10/29/18
Have you written any letters lately? Letters are a wonderful form of communication. Many people have had penpals over the years (also known as penfriends), designed to befriend people in other states or other parts of the world. Penpals learn about different families, traditions, and cultures, and maybe even end up visiting their penfriends.
Most of us have written letters, probably including love letters—maybe even mushy ones. Ever re-read some old love letters? Ever receive a “Dear John” letter? (Hopefully, not the latter.)
Letters can be a strong handshake, a pat on the back, a big hug, even a kiss (S. W. A. K.)! Letters often convey a person’s feelings for another. Making an effort to write a letter can be a form of encouragement in itself. Letters bind author and recipient together in powerful ways.
Some people send random letters to men and women serving their country in distant places. Soldiers serving in Afghanistan, for example, may be deeply touched by anonymous letters from people they have never even met. (See the movie, “The Christmas Card.”)
Letters can be used to encourage, to express thanks, to offer advice, to rebuke, to convey sympathy, and so forth. Letters with cordial greetings, friendly contents, and warm closings can be especially effective in enhancing relationships.
Twenty-one of the twenty-seven books of the New Testament are letters. In addition, two letters are preserved as part of the book of Acts, and Revelation 2-3 includes seven letters. That makes a total of thirty letters in the New Testament. Might there be some implicit encouragement to write letters?
Paul maximized the mileage he could get from writing letters. They were surrogates for his personal presence. He told about himself and what he was going through, often inviting others to imitate him. He expressed gratitude for what others had done for him. He challenged his recipients to live godly lives. He rebuked churches over disagreements and division.
Most of Paul’s letters were written to groups of believers. They were often circular letters that would be passed among the various house churches in a particular city. Since most people in that day were illiterate, they would only hear Paul’s letters read aloud, probably in worship services.
The way Paul concludes his letter to the churches in Philippi reveals much about his thoughts about the body of Christ. Paul wants his hearers to understand that a church is a culture of close friendship for the mutual benefit of one another. It is a family where individuals can find their place in the context of community. It is a society of saints, rooted in grace and devoted to honoring and glorifying God.
APPLICATION: It is a privilege to be part of the body of Christ and to contribute to the well-being of individuals and to the group as a whole. To do that, we should fellowship as much as possible with those who are in proximity, and we should write as many letters as possible to those at a distance. All believers should be close friends, if not penfriends.
When I look back over my life I see time and time again the provision of the Lord. I may not walk an easy road but I walk a blessed one with a good God. Time and time again I have watched Him provide in ways that I could not deny were Him. When I chose to go to Israel with my classmates in 2017 98% of the funds I received were from my church family, and I had more than what I needed. I have witnessed over and over the church be the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. Being on the receiving end of such grace and giving was undeniably a blessing. However one of the greatest blessings I have received was being able to pay a few students to move furniture to help them get to momentum. Being on the the giving end was a true gift.
Paul says that the giving of the Philippians was “A sweet-smelling aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, well pleasing to God.” (18). Much like the sacrifices found in the Hebrew Scriptures, the giving of the Philippians was a sacrifice pleasing to the Lord. Having the opportunity to give is never a burden, but always a blessing. Often the gift we give becomes a tool used to fight the Kingdom fight. As Paul says it isn’t the gift itself but the fruit of that gift, not only in our lives but in the lives of everyone affected by it.
Paul wraps up our section of verses today by saying that the same God Who provides for Him will also supply all of your needs. This is a timeless truth. Though often we allow our wants and desires to blur our view of our needs. Paul didn’t say the Lord would provide all the wants and desires of our hearts, only that He would always provide for our needs. He sees our yesterday, our tomorrow and every tomorrow to follow and knows our hearts even better than we do. Why would we not trust that He knows our true needs? He is indeed a God of provision.
Many people make a big deal over Halloween. It seems the ghoulish decorations are everywhere. I think back years ago when I heard about some churches creating places to appear hell-like in order to scare people into becoming a Christian. To me that’s not a great way to become established in Christ’s love.
Christ’s immense love cannot be exaggerated as we, in faith, allow our hearts to be stretched open to allow Him more and more preeminence; so that ultimately we can have the fullness of God. Is our view of who God is big enough? Do we ever attempt to mentally fit God into a safe and manageable box? Do we fear, or forget, to ask God for the impossible to be performed for the sake of His glory?
Last Sunday I had my fourth grade AWANA Sunday School students make lists of what they know to be true about God. It was a time of worship as we focused on the many facets of His greatness. One child was in awe that God never sleeps and doesn’t even need to take a break. I wanted the kids to see that when we think about God, we don’t focus as much on looking horizontally for things that really can’t give us what we need the most. The fun stuff our friends have and we don’t have isn’t worth coveting.
As part of the Communion Service Love Feast, I am edified when we hear from people whose testimonies aren’t stale, but reflect a vibrant walk with God in the present. So, rather than telling the church family again how God healed someone fifty years ago, there are expressions of praise for God’s glory and grace and His ongoing sanctifying work in the lives of His children.
Ezekiel 11:19 says God will remove the hearts of stone and give instead a heart of flesh. Stone cannot stretch and grow, but a soft heart can. We all have room to stretch and grow whether or not our joints are stiff and sore!
My Lady and I once attended a week-long conference down at Florida Bible College. We were privileged to sit under the teachings of numerous outstanding biblical scholars during that time and learn biblical truths like never before in my life. All were articulate in their presentations leaving me and I’m sure many others in the audience in awe of their deep understanding of the Word of God. I never took so many notes in my life in my attempt to absorb as much understanding as possible. Several years later I went back and looked at those notes and sadly most didn’t make sense to me anymore. The exception was one word that I wrote at the top of a paper. When I read that one word the whole message came back to me. Strength.
The final evening was dedicated to singing praises to our Lord and having people from the audience come up to the podium to give a testimony of their life in Christ plus tell what they got from the conference. Many touching words were shared, but none penetrated my heart like those of this young man in a wheel chair. Several men had to lift him and his chair up on the stage to the waiting arms of others who helped him get in position to speak to the crowd. Taking the microphone, he began speaking, but because of the debilitating disease that had racked him, words were hard to get out; it took every breath he could muster to be heard. But I’ve never forgotten those words.
“You look at me and feel sorry for the shape you see I’m in, but I tell you; if you are living your life without Jesus I feel sorry for you, for you are in worse shape than I.”
Paul, pouring out his heart to the Church in Corinth tells of his situation of having problems, a thorn in his life that he wanted desperately for God to take away. His point was don’t look at what I’m going though, look how God can use it for His glory. Yes, he prayed this infirmity would be taken from him, for he also saw it as an attack by satan to undermine his ministry. But God’s answer was, “My grace is sufficient for you.” Grace is used in the New Testament over 150 times. John MacArthur defines grace as favor given to undeserving people flowing down from God that has power to overcome evil and save all who call upon the name of Jesus. No matter what tribulations come our way, no matter what the evil one does to cause us pain it cannot not trump the power that is given freely by Christ through grace. In that grace, God’s power is shown by His love for us.
Ephesians 2:8-9 – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Paul and the young man in the wheelchair both knew the strength that comes from grace. “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
May all who believe find strength in the grace of our Lord. May it shine forth in this writer.
Thanks for reading