Idol Lies

Exodus 20:4-6 is about more than golden calves. It’s about not allowing anyone or anything to take God’s place.

“You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. You must not bow down to them or worship them, for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God who will not tolerate your affection for any other gods. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children; the entire family is affected—even children in the third and fourth generations of those who reject me. But I lavish unfailing love for a thousand generations on those who love me and obey my commands.” (NLT)

I don’t know anyone who worships a graven image, but I know many, including myself, who allow things and people to get in the way of worship. Food, money, sex, drugs, alcohol, work, beauty, relationships, the quest for fame or fun, and so much more draw attention away from God or take His place.

I used to worry about the sins of the parents being laid upon the children for four generations. I saw it as further proof that God was out to get me. He was not only going to get me; He was going to get my great, great, grandchildren too! I’ve since learned to see God in the light of Christ’s precious love. That enables me to see scripture in a new light, as well. God is a loving Father who knows idol lies will hurt me deeply and keep me from His love.

Idols take the best from those at their feet. Like all shiny objects, they tempt and promise much, but they never deliver on those promises. Idol worship is a one-sided relationship that sucks life from the body, love from the heart, and peace from the soul. Idol lies appear to be truth because the master of deceit is behind them. I can’t discern the truth without the help of the Holy Spirit. That means listening and obeying God’s commandments and understanding they are forged in love and designed for my good.

Good parents and teachers know the importance of boundaries when it comes to safety and learning. It isn’t easy to be a loving parent who cares enough to make sure their children understand the importance of loving obedience. I’ve seen far too many fall into the trap of wanting to be liked. I’ve fallen into it myself.

God doesn’t want to be popular; He simply wants me to know how very much He loves me. That means trusting and obeying even when I don’t understand. Idols weave lies into a beautiful nets that cover and capture all at one time or another. Many stay trapped in those nets because they believe there is no hope of getting out. God doesn’t forget His children when they are caught up in the traps of idols. It breaks His heart to watch His beloved struggle in the net of idol lies, but He knows they won’t truly be free until they are ready to hear the truth.

Idol lies drown out the still, small voice of God because He will not compete with idols. He knows how tempting it is to fall into the trap of an idol. It is why He sent His only Son to break the hold of those traps. His love and truth shed light on idol lies, exposing them for what they are. I can listen to His love, or I can listen to a lot of bull. The choice is, and always will be, mine.

Golden bull sclupture on grey glass

Carrying the Wrong Cross

I was brought up believing that carrying my cross was accepting the ailments and heartbreaks in life and drudging forward. I shake my head and sigh when I think of the time between my old and new testaments. Jesus carried His cross, and I must carry mine. He loved and trusted God with all His heart, mind, soul, and strength. Crosses are about obedience and trust, and no one understands that better than Jesus.

A large crowd was following Jesus. He turned around and said to them, “If you want to be my disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison—your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And if you do not carry your own cross and follow me, you cannot be my disciple.

“But don’t begin until you count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first calculating the cost to see if there is enough money to finish it? Otherwise, you might complete only the foundation before running out of money, and then everyone would laugh at you. They would say, ‘There’s the person who started that building and couldn’t afford to finish it!’

“Or what king would go to war against another king without first sitting down with his counselors to discuss whether his army of 10,000 could defeat the 20,000 soldiers marching against him? And if he can’t, he will send a delegation to discuss terms of peace while the enemy is still far away. So you cannot become my disciple without giving up everything you own.

“Salt is good for seasoning. But if it loses its flavor, how do you make it salty again? Flavorless salt is good neither for the soil nor for the manure pile. It is thrown away. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!” (Luke 14:25-35 NLT)

Christ didn’t have to take up His cross and carry it. He chose to. He didn’t have to die. He chose to. Obedience is up to me; it’s my cross. I used to think I had to save others. Again, I’m shaking my head in disbelief. Trying to carry Christ’s cross instead of my own left me depleted and discouraged. Carrying the wrong cross is a common problem among Christ’s followers, and it leads to frustration and violence.

An older gentleman told me last week that Christians were going to have to start fighting. I reminded him that the Crusades didn’t go well. He insisted that we had to do something about muslims in our country. He is a good man at heart, so I was surprised by his words. I was disappointed that he thought I would appreciate his ideas of violence toward muslims. When we try to take up Christ’s cross, frustration leads to anger and violence.

I don’t want to be a flavorless follower, and I don’t want to join an angry mob. Jesus was not on either end of that spectrum. His love was at the center of His cross, and His love must be at the center of mine. It is up to me to obey God, but I cannot do that on my own. Christ’s precious love keeps my heart and my walk centered and focused upon God’s love. I didn’t hear that love in the conversation last week, but I hear it in His words.

The cost of carrying my cross is giving up my need to carry Christ’s cross and obeying when I’m not sure where He is leading me. Discipleship is never easy, but it isn’t as hard as carrying Christ’s cross for Him. He already carried His cross, so I only need to worry about carrying mine, and He will help me with that.

Help

 


Wonderland

Wonder is a big part of worship, but I let worry and want keep me from wondering as I should. Instead of letting awestruck wonder fill my heart and life, I waste precious time worrying about whether or not I’ll get what I want. Want and worry go hand in hand, and I find I can’t have one without the other. My wants are right in the middle of my worries. Those worries are a sure sign that I’m focused upon myself rather than God.

When I focus upon God, I’m struck by His majesty,  I’m also amazed by His patient love and find myself seeking His presence. Saying two in the Gospel of Thomas says this about seeking.

“Jesus said, Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all. And after they have reigned, they will rest.”

I love the progression Thomas includes in his gospel because I’ve found that seeking does disturb at first. When I get past the disturbance, I marvel as I am able, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to reign over the things of this world. The reigning isn’t about controlling circumstances but rather about living in and loving through them. It’s taken a long time for me to come to this place of rest, but the Holy Spirit provides peace that passes all rest I’ve ever known.

Worries and wants are giants that can only be slain by wonder in and worship of a God who loves me more than I can imagine on my own. With the help of the Holy Spirit and the company of those who hear my heart and continue to love me anyway, I can not only absorb that love, I can share it with others. It’s what the Good News of Jesus Christ is all about, and I thank God for the patience He has shown to me.

It’s tempting to stop seeking and simply sit satisfied safely in my own salvation, but that self satisfaction can never take the place of the joy that comes from sharing God’s love. When it comes to temptation, I can test God and try His patience, or I can trust Him and take His advice. Either way, I  find that God never changes, but He can change me if I let Him.

I think I’ll keep seeking, wondering, and worshiping God because I love the peace that comes once I find Him.

Seeking God
Seeking God

The Cost of Obedience

Disobeying God comes at great cost, but obeying Him takes all I have. The lesson this week has been just that. He lets me do some of what He wants and some of what I want for as long as I want, but He refuses to give me the peace that comes when I surrender all, trust Him, and do exactly as He asks. I try to bargain with God and do a wonderful job of convincing myself that what I want is the really the same thing He wants. It makes perfect sense in my mind; but my heart doesn’t buy it, and neither does God. I gave up bargaining and put my persuasive techniques away this week.

Change is never easy, and a dear friend reminded me it’s what living is all about. As much as I would love to freeze a beautiful moment, I know I would not even if I could. God could leave us in those precious times, but He knows they would not be precious if He did. He doesn’t make me love Him or obey Him because He knows that only when I surrender and obey on my own will I find the peace and purpose He so wants for me. I cannot truly obey until my selfish tears and childish tantrums subside, and I surrender all to Him. Sometimes, I obey because I do not have a choice. The result is misery for me and for those I serve.

Obedience means being in God’s presence and living not only a praying life, but also a joy filled one. Change is part of the journey, and getting outside my comfort zone is the only way I can remember to surrender. I can refuse to change and stay where I’m comfortable, or I can trudge along in misery. It’s my choice. God will not make me go where He bids, but His peace stays with Him when I walk off on my own. The cost of His peace is obeying Him, and the cost of obeying Him is dying to self and trusting Him completely.

My heart breaks as He calls me away from my comfort zone and into His will. Fear causes me to hesitate, but my love for Him enables me to get past those fears and let those tears clear away all that is in His way. I know God will bless me as never before as I trust and obey. As the beautiful hymn by John H. Sammis says, “there’s no other way to be happy in Jesus.” I want to be happy in Jesus and find the joy He has for me. Obedience is expensive, but it is well worth the cost. Disobedience is a little cheaper, but it never satisfies and always leaves me wanting more.

Expect the Unexpected

With God, I’ve learned to expect the unexpected. He always surprises me and then helps me see that His plan makes perfect sense.  I’ve learned to love and accept His lessons as beautiful gifts.  I’ve also come to love His methods.

God uses the unlikely to accomplish His will because the likely would want the credit. It is only when I learn that I can do nothing without God that He can begin to work through me. I am more surprised than anyone when God allows me to be a vessel for Him.

The prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi best describes the plea of those unlikely souls who seek to do God’s will in unexpected ways.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master,
grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive.
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned,
and it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life.The beautiful prayer turns me around and the world upside down. If I live this prayer, I can expect to find the unexpected lessons God has for me. Jesus lived the words Saint Francis penned, and I pray we will all seek to do the same.

God uses the unlikely in unexpected ways. He is full of surprises and the Master Teacher. There is never a dull moment with God because I can always expect the unexpected. That’s what makes learning, living, and loving in His kingdom fill me with wonder. Like a child, I am constantly awed by all God has done, is doing, and will continue to do.

I used to be a planner and liked having everything laid out before me. God knows, and has shown me, that lifestyle won’t work in His kingdom. Faith is about trusting when I don’t understand. Believing when I can’t see, and knowing God loves me no matter what. That requires letting go of the need to know and letting God have a clear, clean vessel with which to work.

It’s taken a long time for me to let go and trust God completely, but I’m learning to love the way He surprises me with beautiful lessons that catch me off guard and make me shake my head and ask, “How did You do that?” The answer is always the same, “I am God; I love you, and I know what I’m doing:)”

Still Ready

To be ready to do God’s will, my heart must be still. The human heart is never physically still, and the healthy heart will beat anywhere from 40 to 100 beats per minute depending upon age, size, condition and activity levels.  It is the strongest and most important muscle in my body. The stillness God requires isn’t about motion or muscle; it’s about focus and love.

Worry is the biggest obstacle when it comes to my heart being still. The Greek word translated as ‘worry’ in Matthew 6:25-33 means “split attention or divided concern.” That makes perfect sense when I think about my own tendency to worry. If I think about God and truly believe He is who He says He is, then my attention is no longer split. If I pray “Thy kingdom come; Thy will be done” with my whole heart, my concern is no longer divided. When I read the beautifully reassuring words from Matthew, my worry turns to stillness as faith replaces fear.

 “For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And who of you by being worried can add a single hour to his life? And why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear for clothing?’ For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”NASB

What other words do I need? I am learning to read God’s Word with a stillness that centers my focus and so centers my heart and life. The stillness lasts as long as my focus:) I’m doing better in many ways, but I have a long way to go before I stay still. Perhaps that will only come when I am in heaven. When I experience the sweet stillness that comes when my focus is completely upon God, I get a tiny taste of what is to come. It’s more than enough to make me want more!

The world is great at grabbing my attention and taking it away from the sweet center Christ provides, and my concern is easily divided when I fall into the trap of listening to voices other than God’s. Knowing I can do nothing without Him and everything with Him reminds me to keep my focus upon Him and seek His kingdom and righteousness first, last, and always with a single-heartedness that will help me be still and know He is God. It also helps me to eagerly await His return in a way that helps His kingdom come and His will be done. That’s what walking in God’s kingdom is all about:)