Archive for the ‘Idolatry’ Category

Guard your heart

Sacred Heart of Jesus

“When a man’s heart is right with God the mysterious utterances of the Bible are spirit and life to him. Spiritual truth is discernible only to a pure heart, not to a keen intellect. It is not a question of profundity of intellect, but of purity of heart.”  Oswald Chambers

The word “heart”, as used in the Old Testament, is frequently translated from the Hebrew “לב (sounds like “leb”). It describes a person’s inner being—specifically their will, mind, consciousness, emotions and understanding. It can also refer to moral character and determination. The Hebrew people of Biblical times believed the heart was a body’s place of knowledge, memory and thought. From a holistic viewpoint, the Hebrews saw the heart as the predominant force behind a person’s character, decisions, words and deeds.

The word “heart” as used in the Greek New Testament is καρδία” (sounds like “cardia”). It is the root of the modern English “cardiac.” Like the Hebrew word for “heart,” καρδία has multiple interpretations. It represents the origin of one’s spiritual life and includes emotions. thoughts and one’s personal will. It also describes the center of one’s longings, desires and feelings.

In Roman Catholicism, the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus devotion recalls Jesus’ infinite love for all mankind. Saint Matthew reminds us that we are to return Jesus’ love for us.  In Matthew 22:37-38(a), Jesus tells us, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.” Christian writer Witness Lee was born to a Christian family in North China in 1905. In his book The Economy of God, which was published in 1968, Lee examines the role of the heart in a Christian’s life. He says:

“Our relationship with the Lord is always begun and maintained by the heart. Of course, to contact the Lord is a matter of the spirit, but this must be initiated and maintained by the heart, for our heart is the gateway of our whole being.” He continues, “In other words, the heart becomes both the entrance and the exit of our being. Whatever enters into us must enter through the heart. Whatever comes out from us must proceed through the heart.”

There are many worldly forces competing for our hearts. The Bible is full of examples and warnings about idols, false prophets and false teachers.  We find these deceivers all around us today. Idols manifest themselves in the forms of power, wealth, fame, celebrity, self-indulgence and the like—things we choose to worship in place of God. False prophets sometimes appear in the form of politicians, governments, religious leaders and, more recently, some social media outlets. They plant seeds of fears and confusion with words running contrary to the teaching of Christ. 18th century Welsh theologian Matthew Henry’s comprehensive Bible commentary has much to say on false prophets and teachers. For example:

“Our Saviour cautions his disciples to stand on their guard against false teachers. And he foretells wars and great commotions among nations. From the time that the Jews rejected Christ, and he left their house desolate, the sword never departed from them. See what comes of refusing the gospel. Those who will not hear the messengers of peace, shall be made to hear the messengers of war. But where the heart is fixed, trusting in God, it is kept in peace, and is not afraid. It is against the mind of Christ, that his people should have troubled hearts, even in troublous times.”  Commentary on Matthew 24

Psalm 1 tells us to meditate on the Law (instruction) of the Lord. If your heart is fixed on the Word of God, you are not likely to go astray. The Word of God is “at work” in believers who hear and meditate on it (1 Thessalonians 2:13). The Word of God helps us to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12). The working of the Word of God is evident in true believers.  My mom spent the last few months of her life in a dementia facility.  One of the residents was a believer who was probably close to 90 years old. This blessed man, overcome by Alzheimer’s Disease, daily recited the Roman Catholic Missal for hours on end. Even in his diminished state, the Word of God was at work in this old Saint’s heart.

The Word of God helps us avoid the temptations of idolatry and false prophets.  As Corinthians 10:13 tells us. “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (ESV)

So how can Christians respond to temptations that tear at their hearts? Naturally, Jesus provides the answer.  In Matthew 4:1-11, we find the story of Jesus’s temptation by Satan. In this passage, Jesus is tempted (tested) in the wilderness and responds with the Word of God, reciting scripture to Satan:

            Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.

            You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.

            You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.

Ephesians 6:17 calls the Word of God “the sword of the Spirit.” Like a sword, the Word can be used for both defensive and offensive purposes—defensive as when Jesus responds to the temptations of Satan in the wilderness, and offensive as when we see the triumphant Jesus, the Alpha and Omega, in Revelation 1:17-18, where he proclaims, “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.”  Study the Holy Scriptures and receive the Word of God!

Today, Jesus calls to each of us, “Come, leave behind your life of sin and sorrow. Come to the cross, find forgiveness for your sins, and join me in resurrection victory. Come, be My disciple. Come and know the joy of a loving Father. Come, before it is too late.” –Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker emeritus of the Lutheran Hour.

…I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you. –1 Timothy 1:12(b)-14

Getting Right With God

Get Right With God

“Get right with God” is a popular saying often seen on t-shirts, bumper stickers, church marquees, roadside billboards and the like.  Grammy award winner Lucinda Williams even recorded a song with this title. If you ask someone what getting right with God means, it’s highly likely that if they have an answer at all it will center around trying to be a “good person” or living a “good life.”  However, any moral answer to this question that fails to address the issue of sin is incomplete.

Paul described sin as the bondage of humanity, not just the bondage of the individual. Sin is more than a moral lapse, more than a failure of the moral action of individual human beings, but describes the problem of a destroyed relationship—in the cosmic realm, sin is not an act, but a condition of separation from God that is a result of man following his own will instead of God’s.  Sin, in this case, is a form of idolatry where we become our own God. As the Psalmist confesses to God in Psalm 51, “Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgement.”

For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.  –Romans 8:7-8

The Jewish Pharisees viewed sin in terms of moral misbehavior. Fearing a never-ending list of possible sins, Jewish leaders developed new laws containing prohibitions aimed at steering the people away from an immoral life. Jesus shook up the Jewish culture by continually going beyond moral laws and seeking relationships with people the Jewish leaders called sinners; instead of condemning such people, Jesus offered the communion of His healing and forgiveness. As He told the woman caught in the act of adultery in John chapter 8, “…go and from now on sin no more.” (John 8)

They criticized Jesus for his relationships with a tax collector, a prostitute, a Samaritan woman by a well, and a woman caught in the act of adultery just to name a few.  The reason for Jesus’ relationship seeking is because sin is centered on broken relationships—with neighbors, friends and family. More importantly, sin at the cosmic level is centered on mankind’s broken relationship with the Creator.  

Christ atoned for our personal sins by his death on the cross and glorious resurrection from the dead.  More importantly, however, He restored the right relation that God desired to have with us from the beginning. German writer Thomas Weißenborn in his book Das Geheimnis der Hoffnung: Einführung in den christlichen Glauben (The Secret of Hope: Introduction to the Christian Faith) said, “…if guilt and forgiveness are only understood personally, the cosmic aspect of the New Testament is lost.” One of Christ’s gifts, for those who confess their sins and accept Jesus as their Savior, is restoration into God’s eternal family; Christ offers each of us a chance to become a prodigal son or daughter (Luke 15). “By the giving up of His sinless life sacrificially, Christ annuls the power of sin to separate between God and the believer” (Propitiation – excerpt from Vines Dictionary of New Testament Words).  Only through Jesus Christ can we get right with God.

For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.                                               –Romans 8:38-39

Note: All Bible quotes are ESVUK.

Transformed not Conformed

Parthenon

The Parthenon (Temple of Athena) Athens, Greece

The lines between right and wrong are growing increasingly blurry in American society today.  Modern culture encourages us to be more accepting and inclusive. Our elected officials have passed many laws at the national, state and local levels that conflict with a Christian world view. Americans are bombarded with modern culture images, messages and social mores in the broadcast, cable, print and web news sites, as well as on the ever-increasing social media and other Internet websites.   

Despite the rapid social changes and pressures to conform, for matters of Christian faith and living the deciding question remains “what does the Bible say?”  When the Apostle Paul and Silas visited the city of Berea on a missionary journey, Paul preached the Gospel in the local synagogue, where it was received with great enthusiasm. Acts 17: 11 (NIV) says that the Berean Jews “…received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans recognized the authority of the Scriptures. Acts 17 goes on to tell us that as a result of Paul’s preaching there, many Berean Jews believed, as well as many prominent Greek women and men.

My wife and I are currently participating in a small group study examining the collision of Christian, Jewish, Roman and Hellenistic cultures during the ministry of the Apostle Paul.  Hellenistic culture was the pervasive Greek culture that influenced the entire Mediterranean region during Paul’s time.

Paul’s journeys led him to Corinth, a flourishing, modern Roman colony that Julius Caesar had intentionally populated with second rate Roman citizens, most of whom had failed in life while living in Rome. In Paul’s day, the city was wicked and corrupt, filled with prostitutes, crooks, swindlers and lowlifes. Corinth had a Jewish synagogue and Paul was eager to share the Gospel there.

Paul arrived in Corinth with only the possessions he was carrying.  Shortly after arriving, he met a Jewish, Christian married couple named Priscilla and Aquila. Like Paul, they were tentmakers by trade and they owned a business in Corinth.  They took Paul into their business and invited him to live in their home, where Corinth’s first house church was established. 

Paul frequented the synagogue in Corinth, but met with much resistance from the Jewish leaders.  Growing weary of Paul’s message, these leaders eventually drug him before the local Roman proconsul Gallio in AD 51 and brought a series of charges against him. When Gallio learned that the dispute was about Jewish law and that Paul had not violated any Roman laws, he refused to judge the case and told the Jewish leaders to settle the matter themselves. Paul’s attempt to convert the Corinthian Jews failed.

After this, Paul turned away from the Jews in Corinth and took his message to the local gentiles.  Subsequently, many converted to the faith.  These converts included a high-level Corinthian leader named Erastus. The NIV translation of Paul’s epistle to the Romans refers to him as the “Director of Public Work” in Corinth. After Paul’s eventual departure from Corinth, he wrote to the Corinthian church, telling them that their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19). What a concept for people surrounded by pagan shrines and magnificent Greek and Roman temples!

Paul also journeyed to Athens hoping to spread the Gospel.  Athens was the center of Hellenistic culture, a city full of temples and idols.  There Paul had the opportunity to preach to the Areopagite Council (or Areopagus), a powerful, court-like body made up of Athenian aristocrats.  Despite Paul’s immense knowledge of the Scriptures and his skills in persuasive speaking, he failed to persuade the Areopagus. Paul failed to establish a church in Athens and departed the city in disappointment. 

Like Paul, Christians today will not always succeed against the tide of negative cultural change and influences, but they can remain steadfast in their beliefs without succumbing to cultural pressures. Paul succeeded in forming churches in some places and failed in others, but his approach was always based upon the same foundation—a deep knowledge of the scriptures; reliance upon the guidance of the Holy Spirit; and living in a manner that glorified Christ.

As Christians living in modern American society, we can learn a lot from Paul. We live in a culture filled with idols—people or objects we value more than God.  We may not literally bow down to these idols, but we worship them all the same.  Rather than existing as statues and shrines, today’s idols are more likely to adorn the covers of gossip and fashion magazines, make movies, play professional sports, or work in politics, i.e. modern cults of personality.  Some people idolize inanimate objects like money, expensive cars, exquisite homes, extravagant vacations, or their jobs. Others make idols of wealth, drugs, alcohol, cell phones, social media or Internet porn. I shudder to think what negative effects the advent of the sex robots will have on our culture. 

Today, in a world that’s filled with idols, Paul’s warning to the church in Rome is more relevant than ever:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good,  pleasing and perfect will.  Romans 12:2 (NIV)

J.B. Phillips’s, author of the bestselling book Your God is Too Small, paraphrases Romans 12:2 like this: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity”

Christians must let God’s spirit shape their lives, not the influences of modern culture. Let Colossians 3:12 (NIV) be your guide:

Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved,  clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Christians in the early Church influenced the culture around them because they loved one another and cared for the sick, the homeless, orphans, widows, lepers and other disenfranchised members of society.  The conversion of Rome to Christianity didn’t occur through power and intimidation, but through weakness and self-sacrifice. Think about these words from Paul:

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. 2 Corinthians 12:10 (NIV)

Christians in America cannot stem the tide of the negative cultural influences that constantly collide with our lives and Christian world view, but we can focus on the presence of God’s Holy Spirit to shape our hearts and minds. In this politically charged era, we still have certain obligations to our laws and government that we must adhere to as the price for living in this great nation; but as  Jesus said, we must “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and render unto God what is God’s.”  We must obey the laws of the land and work to change those laws when necessary, but we must not allow our Christian beliefs to be conformed to modern culture. In every situation, remember to ask, “What does the Bible say?”