March 24, 2016

Failing To Fell A Two Thousand Year Old Oak

This may or may not be the last post on idolatry. It depends on whether or not I feel compelled to write more.

For now I enter the not so favorable realm of calling to task the idolatries no one will acknowledge unless forced to. The ones that are so hard to see that are obscured by our ignorance and sin. The Great False Idol of Modern Christianity. The idolatry of the Christian Church that parrots conservative and liberal political bases and seems more aligned to a party than Jesus. The Church that forgot its purpose is spreading the Gospel, not partisan ideologies. Jesus was neither a Republican nor Democrat, Independent nor Libertarian. Jesus eschewed politics for hearts. Mercy over sacrifice. I am talking about the religio-political syncretism that passes itself off as Christianity and has pervaded the Evangelical world. It is the evangelical church that will willingly embrace a known adulterer as a presidential candidate or a known liar that continually changes face to gain votes. It is all idolatry.

I am calling to task the seeker-friendly-ism of churches that water-down the Gospel in an attempt to gain converts. The emergent nonsense that changes core truths to foreshorten the Gospel so it is more palatable to some who wouldn’t convert even if you clubbed them over the head and dragged them into the doors of your local congregation. I am talking about those that would turn Christianity into an idol thinking they fooled some to come to the Church when in reality even the densest of non-believers can see that the Truth of Christianity was compromised to win them. Invariably they realize that if this was done for them, what would the Church do to win even more reprobate people other than them? They see that you are willing to sell-out. Where is the appeal in that? Even rats can smell other rats. Hyenas and Jackals are drawn to their own. Even the hardened non-believer knows when something is amiss, they just don’t have a good name for it. Christians do…it’s called idolatry.

This last paragraph of idolatry also reeks of something else. Fear. Fear in Christianity is a false pretense of Christianity that is in reality idolatry. A Christian that says he is of the Faith and is Christian but in reality …has no faith. A faithless adherent is not an adherent. It is a person who believes themselves saved and a Christian but in reality believe in an impotent God, not an Omnipotent and Sovereign One. This is a belief in a God that is not in the Bible…hence they are idolaters.

There is then the idolatry that is entertainment for the congregation not worship directed towards God. Most often called worshiptainment. The worship that seeks to bring glory to the performer and pleasure to the audience that only marginally involves the Jesus Christ. The worship that seeks to illicit a feeling of euphoria in the participant before actually being engaged by the Spirit. The worship that is purposely used to manipulate a congregant’s emotive state to make them more receptive to a spirit rather than the Spirit moving the believer to an emotive state because a realization of the truth(s) of God and His work of Salvation. This is absolutely backwards.

The truth through the Spirit is the conduit by which the feeling should come. In other words, when the Spirit moves you to realize just how great your God is, your proper response should then be euphoria over what He has done for us. THAT is worship. It is head AND heart knowledge that comes of the Spirit and is based in understanding of the truth revealed by the Spirit. It is the work of the Spirit. 

That is why two people standing side-by-side can both hear the same Gospel and one will be saved by grace and the other will remain entrenched in their sins. It is the Spirit working in us, not the emotions soliciting the Spirit. Entertainment will move a spirit. The question that should be asked is: What spirit is it moving? If it is not the Holy Spirit eliciting the response….you had better check yourself at the door because somewhere between the sidewalk outside the church and raising those hands in false emotive supplication…you crossed over into idolatry or worship of the feelings elicited by emotive music. Bottom line ask yourself this: Is your entertainment or worship God honoring first and foremost

Then comes the hammer blows that are harder to absorb for the idolatrous heart.

When what you want outdoes what the Bible tells you, you have a problem. Do you place your needs first above others and obedience to Scripture? Are you doing what you want to do or what the Lord has called you to do? When you can say that you feel the Bible says something it doesn’t you are imposing on the Bible and making self an idol.

Believing in certain types of unbiblical Jesus’ is idolatry and these are some of the most dangerous idolatries to contend with. Which Jesus are we speaking of? Well actually, there are a lot. The Mormon and Jehovah’s Witness Jesus’ are easy targets so I will avoid them. No, let’s give some people a spiritual throttling, shall we? I am talking about the Gay Jesus. The Feminist Jesus. I’m talking about the socio-culturally acceptable Jesus. The friendly Jesus who wouldn’t offend people or the WWJDTWPI Jesus…the “What Would Jesus Do That Wasn’t Politically Incorrect?” Jesus. How about the Jesus who is the “all-love-and-no-wrath” Jesus. You know, the emergent church Rob Bell one.

Don’t people realize they are cramming Jesus into a box in these scenarios? They are literally trying to crunch God down to a pocket-sized image of what is in their mind. They are trying to frame Jesus into what they want them Him to be. They are trying to fell the mighty 2000 year old oak just to fashion an idol that is small enough to fit into their heads. Hewing the glorious image of the unseen and seen God into a false representation…making God Himself into idol.

At least they are trying to.

I guess when you have a lot of people attempting to prune and cut back the real Christianity, the real Christianity begins to become self-evident pretty quickly. Idolatry helps thin the herd I suppose. I guess this is what Jesus meant what He said we should enter through the narrow gate.  For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. The ones that find true salvation will fewer and smaller in number. The unrepentant and misled will cut away what they think is not Christianity but the truth is that a remnant will always remain that know the truth and the True God. God assures us of this in His Word. Like a sapling that rises out of the felled oak, the true Body of Christ lives on.

In the end, if your mind’s posture is not correct, your spiritual stature will be incorrect also. A person needs to practice the thought of God constantly. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians we need to take all our thoughts captive and keep them in subjection to Christ. Otherwise we will go rouge. It’s just the way our minds have become after the Fall. 

As an old friend used to tell me: "Your attitude towards Christ determines your altitude in Christ."

March 23, 2016

A Shed Full of Wood

They say that once written or photographed stuff is on the Internet it never disappears and it’s out there forever. This bodes well for the Gospel. It bodes especially well for anything published online about the Gospel. Such as a blog. A blog like SoulJournaler. At the time of writing this post Souljournaler has now amassed a total of 1460 articles over six years and has now surpassed 2 two million (2,000,000) views since its inception.
On average each post is in the neighborhood of 2-3 book pages so that equates to approximately a 3000-4000 pages of a hardcover book. It boggles my mind that I’ve written enough to fill a 4000 page theology book with just the stuff published (not to mention the hundreds of pages in papers that remain unpublished).

I have written to teach and to edify and have found that even in my own darkest hours that my own writing has even fulfilled this for me. I often go back and read some of my older posts because I have often needed to be reaffirmed of my own faith based in earlier beliefs in my own times of distress and trial. Even in the hard times the Lord has blessed me…in some cases…by my own hand. 

Over the last six years I have slowly accumulated fuel for a fire that, now stoked, will now need to burn until I take my last breath. I am talking about the flame lit in me by the Holy Spirit to proclaim the Gospel even at risk of alienation from all I held or all I hold dear. And believe me, I have needed to go into the woodshed for fuel a few times over the last few years to draw on inspiration of former days and take some of my own advice at times off of my own blog (not to mention many other Christian web sites also).

Frankly, six years down the road from its startup I did not expect to still be writing and posting to it but life since my inauguration into the Faith, has taken many unforeseen turns. Although I have neglected it lately because of personal issues I still write and compile for possible future articles. Over time my theology has matured and changed. Because it is a blog dedicated to exalting God and the Lord Jesus Christ I am proud of this accomplishment. It was started with a simple biblical intent and those reasons remain the same today as they did on day one.

2 Corinthians 10:3-5 ~ “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ…”

1 Peter 3:15 ~ “…but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence…”

There is a lot of fuel for the fire in this reserve of 1400+ posts. It is there not only to strengthen my fire but for all other takers also. So stop back often and grab what you need, its free for the taking. My thanks to all who have paid SoulJournaler a visit over the last six years as one or more of the 2,000,000 visits and pray that you will continue to return in the future….whatever that future may hold.

March 18, 2016

Laying An Axe To The Root of Idolatry

Idolatry weaves its way into nearly all other sins. One place idolatry truly prefers taking up residence is in our relational lives. Hero worship or looking to other people as if they are demigods. Sports stars, movie stars, rock stars, political stars. Stars…as if these people somehow outshine other people…or even outshine God. I have to be honest. I’ve never heard God referred to as a divine star or any kind of star for that matter. Usually he is referred to with scorn and outright distain. Humans are often referred to as stars as if they are something more than human. I believe even calling people stars is an attempt to usurp God’s throne by somehow immortalizing these types of people like the stars in the sky which were here before us and will be so after us.

Idolatry also shows up in our relational sexual sins too. I believe that is why adultery is frowned upon so fiercely by God. Adultery seeks to blow apart that which God binds together in marriage. It is an attempt to destroy the core unit of a family which is so representative of the Kingdom to come. I believe this is why divorce is frowned upon except as a last resort when one has either committed adultery or abandoned the marriage covenant. I believe also that idolatry is at the heart of homosexuality and is one of the reasons homosexuality is viewed as such an abomination by God.

Why you ask?

In the context of idolatry we begin to see why homosexuality is abhorrent to God and needs to be acted on so sternly. In rejecting God and a love for God, men (and women) literally turned to images of themselves (Romans 1:23 corruptible humanity) in a form of sexual and idolatrous narcissism. It is as if homosexuality is the ultimate form of idolatry. To make oneself (or another human being like the self, same sex and all) the sole object of worship, desire, love or lust. Homosexuals therefore not only reject God and His statutes, they end up adding insult to injury lusting and loving after the flawed created being (v.23) that has been given over to their sin (v.24). It is a self-perpetuating downward cycle of sin and depredation.

In relationships in general, when the enjoyment gleaned from the relationship becomes disproportionate to the thing that is being desired it becomes idolatry. In other words you cross the line from love/desire to obsession/lust instead of an appreciation of your mate, you’ve tripped over into idolatry. When relationships do not take into consideration other’s feelings, they are idolatrous. Relations simply become objects of desire and/or means to an end (this is a good description of a narcissist/sociopath too). To desire something that is not worthy of that desire is idolatry and that includes relationships that derail your relationship with God. Even when it is familial, even when it is a marriage. When desire leads to an expectation of self-gratification without gratefulness. When relationships and desirous people forget that all relationships and pleasure are a gift from God…you guessed it…your idolatrous. I will admit that this last paragraph has summed up about 90% of humanity, myself included. We all walk this line and no one is immune.

I part with the words of Jesus. It is all in the subtleties again with this post. We say that the Bible promotes “family values”. Yes, it does…and no it doesn’t. Not always. Not when those “values” attempt to trump obedience to the word of God. Hence my parting Scripture. First, we have Jesus in Matthew 10…

Matthew 10:34-39 ~ “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’ “Anyone who loves their father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves their son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Whoever does not take up their cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.

What Jesus is saying here is quite simple. Jesus indicates that following Him in normal familial and societal situation may not bring peace to a family, but may "split" it up. Those that do not follow God (Jesus) are in essence falling to the side of idolatry because they’ve put something before Him. It is literally,  "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me," of Exodus 20:3-4. Get it?

The second passage that hits even closer to the heart of idolatry in relationships is in Mark 3…

Mark 3:31-35 ~ Then Jesus's mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, "Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you." "Who are my mother and my brothers?," He asked. Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, "Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God's will is my brother and sister and mother."

Jesus clearly deems obeying God's will as more important in a personal relationship with Him than sharing biological ancestry or the familial/communal aspect of that relationship. Indeed, he defines his "significant family" in terms of those who obey God's will. This is a striking departure from popular ideas of "family values," but it makes good sense once we see that God must be put first in any of our relationships if they are to be genuinely godly and loving. Jesus is willing to let his Father's will determine even the boundaries of his "true family". Jesus’ own words here are powerful testimony to idolatry in personal relationships.

Relationships are special gifts from God but when those very relationships whether they be platonic or sexual begin to replace God and put themselves relationally before your relationship with God…you will need to to take a long hard look and possibly make a very hard decision. A decision that will not be easy nor bode well for that relationship. Nor should it bode well...because at that point, that relationship has become rather unhealthy for you mentally, spiritually or physically. It is here deep in the heart of the relational aspect of both human interaction and idolatry that we get at the "root" of the danger of idolatry.

Matthew 3:10, Luke 3:9 ~ “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

March 16, 2016

Shaking the Tree of Idolatry

Among other things...I have been intensely studying idolatry. Some remarkable facts fall out of this sin when you shake it. Over the next few posts I will note some of those interesting things to see what falls out. So why is idolatry named first in the Ten Commandments? Why does God view it as such a heinous sin? Simply put, it is a person's mind attempting to supplant God with something of the Creation rather than allow the Creator to rule one's thoughts and life. In doing this one's mind makes God secondary. Once one does this all other sins will follow.

It is the "gateway" sin (Romans 1:18-31). It is a cascading downhill fall of dominoes. Once the first one falls it is certain the rest will also unless someone or something steps in to stop the chain of sinful events. Our minds are idol factories and will make anything an idol. A stone, a log, our job, sex, our spouse, our children, life itself. Yeah, you heard that last one correctly. That is why we are called to die to self literally and figuratively. It is also why Paul said, “To live is Christ, but to die is gain." Even Christianity itself can become an idol...well, at least a perverted version of Christianity not based in Scripture. In truth nothing is ours it is God's and idolatry is an attempt to possess something that could never be ours.

As I said nothing is ours... it is God's and idolatry is an attempt to possess something that could never be ours, only His. We are attempting to usurp God's true ownership of "it" whatever "it" is. That is why God calls us to him and only Him. Get it?

Objects or things of the Creation are only objects. They only have the value we instill in them with our minds or what value God has stated or given them. That is why money (greed) and sex (adultery and other sexual sins) are in my mind, spiritual abnormalities at heart. At the heart of these issues is a form of sin called, you guesses it…idolatry. People on the other hand are more than objects, they are relationships we are called to by God. That is why God calls use to communal behavior.

We are called to be socially interactive. In the case of people and social interaction it is just the opposite of objects like money and things but it is still a form of idolatry. In our sin, instead of instilling value in people/relationships, our minds in their sinfulness will often try to diminish the relationship aspect of communal human interaction by objectifying people. Make them resources for our own use. Use them. Control them. Make them tools, not an extension of our being or love them as we would love God or ourselves. See the subtleties people?

Certainly the Devil is a problem here but he isn’t the main problem, only an instigator and facilitator. No, the issue is your heart and your mind. Take ownership of your sin…and then seek God for forgiveness.

You need to destroy the idols in your life or they will certainly destroy you.

More on this later as I continue to shake the tree.

March 10, 2016

David’s Spiritual Wilderness-The Same As Ours

[Examination of 1 Samuel 21, Psalm 34 and Psalm 56]

Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest; and Ahimelech came trembling to meet David and said to him, “Why are you alone and no one with you?” David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has commissioned me with a matter and has said to me, ‘Let no one know anything about the matter on which I am sending you and with which I have commissioned you; and I have directed the young men to a certain place.’ Now therefore, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever can be found.” The priest answered David and said, “There is no ordinary bread on hand, but there is consecrated bread; if only the young men have kept themselves from women.” David answered the priest and said to him, “Surely women have been kept from us as previously when I set out and the vessels of the young men were holy, though it was an ordinary journey; how much more then today will their vessels be holy?” So the priest gave him consecrated bread; for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence which was removed from before the Lord, in order to put hot bread in its place when it was taken away. Now one of the servants of Saul was there that day, detained before the Lord; and his name was Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s shepherds. David said to Ahimelech, “Now is there not a spear or a sword on hand? For I brought neither my sword nor my weapons with me, because the king’s matter was urgent.” Then the priest said, “The sword of Goliath the Philistine, whom you killed in the valley of Elah, behold, it is wrapped in a cloth behind the ephod; if you would take it for yourself, take it. For there is no other except it here.” And David said, “There is none like it; give it to me.” 10 Then David arose and fled that day from Saul, and went to Achish king of Gath. 11 But the servants of Achish said to him, “Is this not David the king of the land? Did they not sing of this one as they danced, saying, "Saul has slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands’?” 12 David took these words to heart and greatly feared Achish king of Gath. 13 So he disguised his sanity before them, and acted insanely in their hands, and scribbled on the doors of the gate, and let his saliva run down into his beard. 14 Then Achish said to his servants, “Behold, you see the man behaving as a madman. Why do you bring him to me? 15 Do I lack madmen, that you have brought this one to act the madman in my presence? Shall this one come into my house?”

Rejection precedes acceptance, and suffering precedes reigning. The humble in God will be exalted by God. The rich become last and the poor first. Blessed are the poor, meek, downtrodden…for God will restore them…

The true servant of God must willingly suffer affliction with the full assurance that God is performing His purposes. Positions of prominence and prestige are not to be sought and worked for. This is counterintuitive to men but commonsense to God and things of biblical origin. Rather, the leader who desires Christ's blessing must wait patiently on Him for advancement and promotion to opportunities of greater service. It is not through our own devices or by our own volition that men are saved. It is by the Gospel. A Gospel by God, through God and for God.

In 1 Samuel David makes some grievous mistakes in his early years as a fugitive. He handled himself better as time passed yet he remained a sinner. A fairly flawed sinner. A condition which will rear its head again later in life (Bathsheba). During this time God was training and honing him like the sharp point of a sword for future service. David proceeded to explain that the reason he was alone was that he had sent his soldiers elsewhere. He intended to rendezvous with them shortly and had come to Nob himself to obtain provisions, protection, and prayer in 1 Samuel 22:10.

David's next decisions would be even more troubling in light of current duress and life struggles. From a divine standpoint or seen from a divine standpoint…they might appear to make more sense. That is…if we theologically view God working behind the scene in David’s tumultuous life. Where he would go for refuge and redemption other than God would cause him even more problems and revealed just how far David had drifted from God. There is a lesson for all to learn here. His refuge also proved to be as insecure as his thought processes. It is an enigma why David sought refuge with an enemy’s weapon (Goliath's sword) in that very enemy’s hometown. It defies commonsense.

I suspect David’s actions defy commonsense because, as a whole, to not turn to God for answers and security in turmoil is itself lacking in commonsense. We are given over to our own stupidity when we reject the knowledge of God in our lives (Romans 1). Interestingly we see an untried untempered man reaching for the warriors’ blade of known temper and durability as it had been used for battle by Goliath. In a similar way we see here a testing and tempering of the very man that was now reaching for the Goliath's sword to use it. Both are tools that will be used for God’s purpose. It just so happens that one is an untested spiritually-dulled human man.

In Gath carrying Goliath’s sword, David would therefore have stood-out like a prostitute at Sunday school.

The people of Gath identified him immediately and identified him as “king of the land” either in mockery or seriousness (v. 11). This may have been a slight but it is more probable that they may have heard of David's anointing as Israel's next king. Regardless, Achish’s advisers took David's presence as a serious political threat. David sensed his personal danger and pretended to be insane to preserve his life. Achish dismissed David as mad and deemed him of no use against Saul.

Furthermore, ancient Near Easterners regarded the insane as harbingers of evil and avoided them. In both Nob and Gath David resorted to self-reliance through deception and lying to protect himself, and in each case negative adversarial consequences resulted. He should’ve placed himself in God’s hands in faith.

That is one of the lessons to be learned here.

David eventually does rely on the Lord. He also trusted in the Lord when he wrote Psalms 56 and 34 during/after his time in Gath, according to the titles of those psalms. In Psalm 34 and 56 we see David reflecting back on the trials of earlier days. They are proof positive that bad days do not last forever. They reveal that he was trusting God at the time of the Psalms after 1 Samuel 21's
 troubles had diminished and become memories. His ultimate hope for provision and protection was not himself or the priests or Saul's enemies (other people)...but the Lord Himself.

The little faith that he did exhibit in these times undoubtedly explains the fact that God preserved him during these "lean" times and some good consequences came out of these experiences as noted in the Psalms. David had two later encounters with Achish both of which were beneficial for David. 1 Samuel 21 helps us see the mixture of right and wrong in human Christian decision-making and human actions. David's psalms clarify the proper response that the godly should make when opposition assails us from all sides with no reprieve or exit out of them.

Additionally, we see that when people refuse to submit to God's authority over them, they begin to die spiritually, socially, psychologically, and physically (Romans 6:23). We see this not only in David’s narrative but also Saul and Eli’s in this very same narrative. Eli, the priest, put his family before God. Consequently God cut off his family. God used David's folly to accomplish His will. So even in this David became a blessing to others which in turn actually helped him. Saul, the king, put himself before God. Therefore God cut off his life also even his good son Jonathan ends up dead. Saul became increasingly paranoid, isolated from others, hateful toward his supporters as well as his enemies, and guilty of shedding innocent blood.

When people submit to God's authority over them, they really begin to live (John 10:10). David submitted to God's authority over him. His sins, including deceiving Ahimelech, bore bad consequences for himself and others. Nevertheless God continued to bless and use David. He blessed him personally: David continued to rise to the throne. In David we see a man of human foibles holding on to a former life not intended for him in fear of changing. Resisting that change is not allowing him to see the grander picture laid out before him by God for use in service to Him. What we are seeing in David is an example of indiscretion and poor decision-making being the better part of valor. His indiscretion or poor decision-making looks like courage but in reality...he's just making really bad decisions without God in the picture.

We know where we stand when we ask a simple question. David learned this lesson and most likely asked similar questions to gauge his position before God. Do we seek God for guidance over the long haul or do we consistently rely on our own judgments without prayer? Where you stand with God is directly reflective of how you answer this question.
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