Fighting the Approval idol

Sammy Rhodes has written a post that is good medicine for people like me: chronic (and often unsuccessful) people pleasers: Six ways to fight your approval idol.

It’s fantastic stuff. Items 2 and 5 particularly sing:

2. The pursuit of coolness and the practice of kindness are mutually exclusive.

Being a people pleaser means even when I’m doing something nice for you it’s really about me. Which is shorthand for saying, “I want you to like me and think I’m cool.” The way out of this is dying to what you think of me so I can begin to be kind to you in the ways Jesus has been kind to me. In the words of Mark Driscoll, “You’re not cool you’re a Christian.” Because Christians have died with Christ to being cool, we’re free in him to begin to be kind. The pursuit of coolnees feeds our idolatry but the practice of kindness starves it.

Emphasis mine. It hurts to read that first sentence, because truth hurts.

5. Live FROM your identity, not FOR it.

Maybe it’s better to make the distinction between identity and image. Identity is something given, fundamental to the way you see yourself. Image, on the other hand, is something you create, and is fundamentally about the way you want others to see you. The sin of our age is to live for our image instead of from our identity. Which is why Vaughan Roberts wisely warns us that“wholehearted commitment to Christ will not be good for our image.” But we have something better than an image. We have an identity in Christ that nothing and no one can touch. It includes words like “sons,” “daughters,” “servants,” and “heirs.” In the words of Aslan,“You come of the Lord Adam and the Lady Eve…And that is both honour enough to erect the head of the poorest beggar, and shame enough to bow the shoulders of the greatest emperor on earth. Be content.” You don’t have to be someone when you are someone.

Read the whole thing. Especially if you, like me, wake up to the monstrous idol of Approval every morning. Praying for 1 Samuel 5:4.

It’s impossible to be nihilistic when your God can create ex nihilo

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.”  – Romans 4:16-18

I’m feeling this passage this morning. Not because I’m adhering to it, but because I am not. I did not wake up hopeful this morning. Petty anxieties and useless self-doubt enveloped me like a fog when I woke up in the wee hours.

Have you had days that started that way, or nights that ended that way, not in hope and peace but in anxiety and downcast thoughts?

Faith really stands or falls when it is challenged, doesn’t it? Worry is the marker of a weak faith; and not because when you have strong faith life is rosy with no reason to worry, but rather when you have strong faith and have placed that faith in the right Person the problems of life grow strangely, joyously dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Consider Abraham. He had access to a miniscule percentage of the knowledge of God that we have, yet the brother knew God. I claim to know God, yet stress about easily fixed situations such as faltering projects at work, longer-term financial and career anxiety, and general feelings of self-doubt. My problems do not shake the foundations of eternity; they don’t even register on the seismograph, but they certainly expose the cracks and fault-lines in the paper mache and sand mixture of the foundation I decided to trust in this morning.

Abraham had every reason to not just doubt but to completely dismiss any thoughts of being a father at all, let alone being the father of many nations. He was old. His wife was old and barren. But he put his faith in a God who gives life to the dead and calls into existence things that do not exist. It’s impossible to be nihilistic when your God can create ex nihilo.

One reason among thousands that I’m looking forward to church this morning is that I know I will be reminded, again, of the good news of Jesus and the peace that passes understanding that is in Him. I’ll get perspective on the mini-problems and max-blessings that I already live in today and will know that no matter what befall, nothing can separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

I’ll be reminded, again, of the God I trust in and who I will trust in, who gives life to the dead, who gave life to me, and who calls into existence things that do not exist.

"The gospel is no failure"

“I have to say, with Paul, ‘What if some did not believe?’ It is generic cialis no new thing; for there have always been some who have rejected the revelation of God. What then? You and I had better go on believing, and testing for ourselves, and proving the faithfulness of God, and living upon Christ our Lord, even though we see another set of doubters, and another, and yet another ad infinitum. The gospel is no failure, as many of us know.” – Charles Spurgeon

Quoted in Guzik’s commentary on Romans 3.

It’s madness to keep the gates closed

Lift up your heads, O gates!
And be lifted up, O ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in. (Psalm 24:7, ESV)

The King of glory desires to come in. The passage echoes with the joyful command: “lift up your heads, O gates!”

Gates and doors are for defense. Being risk-averse, I tend to want them to stay closed. But Psalm 24 announces this right at the beginning:

The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein – Psalm 24:1

Surely we would want him in our midst. He has all the resources.

But when I’m in times of doubt and stress, it’s natural for me to bar the gates. This is madness. The king of glory wants to come in. I know he has the answers, so why is my door closed?

The reason, unfortunately, is that I want to rely on myself, which is insanity. I need to open the gates fully and let him come in. “Lift up your heads O gates” is an invitation to hope, to revelation, to cutting through the fog and seeing clearly my situation, and more clearly that the King of glory stands ready to save.

It also takes courage.

Lord, may my gates and doors always be open for you. You are the king of glory and you own it all, what have I to worry about? You are strong and mighty, mighty in battle! Why would I fight any battles on my own? Make me always open to your presence and rule. Amen

Lions and Snakes

This morning I read Psalm 91. Below are verses 11 and 12.

For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways.
On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.  – Psalm 91:11-12

This passage may be familiar to you; this is one of the scriptures that Satan tried and failed to use against Jesus in the wilderness temptation (Matthew 4). He hoped that Jesus would cast himself from the pinnacle of the temple and be rescued by angels. He tried to appeal to Jesus’ pride and short-circuit and destroy Jesus’ mission.

Of course, Satan failed. You can’t appeal to the “pride” of the One who had humbled himself far beyond anything we can imagine (Philippians 2).

Satan’s choice of this passage also demonstrates either Satan’s utter lack of irony or God’s sense of humor, or both. Satan, whom the Bible calls a “roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and who took the form of a snake in the temptation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 3) picked Psalm 91:11-12.

I guess he forgot to look at verse 13:

You will tread on the lion and the adder;
the young lion and the serpent you will trample underfoot.

Our enemy, in any literal or metaphorical form he chooses to manifest himself, is no match for Lord Jesus.

Beloved and destined

To all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints . . . (Romans 1:7, ESV)

I love this salutation in the opening of the book of Romans.

“To all those in Rome who are loved by God . . .”

Do you see it? Paul addresses the believers in Rome as those who are loved by God. This is true of all believers in Jesus, and yet I’ve noticed that for some of us the idea that God loves us is difficult to accept. Yes, we know he has saved us. But it’s easy for me, at least, to think that he’s holding back his love from me until I get a little more adept at doing this Christian thing.

I was talking recently with a precious young believer who told me about her hard background. She said something very interesting to me regarding her relationship with her earthly father. They were a pair who didn’t naturally get along, but she said that eventually she “chose to love” her father, and he “chose to love her”.

I bring that up because, I admit, often times in my heart of hearts I believe that God is mistaken to love me. I think this because I’m not that lovable, frankly, especially when I compare myself to other believers or to God himself. In other words, it feels like I haven’t earned it yet. I’m  a fool for thinking that: God has chosen to love me; his love is not something I can earn. I hope that if you, like me, think God would have to be off his rocker to love you, you’ll let these words, this simple truth, sink deep into your soul: God loves you.

Believer, you are beloved by him. He cares for you in ways you can’t fathom, and he loves you passionately, fervently, with a love that is purer and more intense than any you have ever known on earth. Most of us have a deep, deep need to be loved and fully known. This causes much distress in our lives because of the Catch-22 it embodies: we fear that if we were ever fully known, no one could possibly love us. But God knows us far better than we know ourselves. He knows the truth about us, even the truth we hide from ourselves. He knows ever atom in our bodies and every thought in our heads and every action we’ve ever done, and he loves us.

The second half of Paul’s sentence brings this home: “. . . called to be saints”.

When I was a new believer, many moons ago, the word “saint” in the Bible tripped me up. I thought you only became a saint when men in elaborate robes met in a stone castle and elected you. But someone explained to me, early on, that Biblically all believers in Jesus are saints. The word “saint” simply means “holy one” or “called out one”. A saint is someone whom God is “sanctifying”. Now “sanctify” is another large word that might cause confusion. To be sanctified means to become like Jesus, to be made to conform to his likeness. Take a look at this verse:

For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. – Romans 8:29

This hit me like a freight train a few years ago. I thought God saved me to make me a better person. I know now that God has no interest at all in doing small renovation projects on me, or performing minor cosmetic surgery, applying nips and tucks to my often unpresentable life. His goal is not to make me better. His goal is to make me new.

God is remaking me into the image of his Son. This is my destiny. It’s not an optional change, reserved only for the most devoted and dedicated of his followers. It’s the destiny of every person who has placed their faith in Jesus Christ for salvation. He has us, and he means to bring us into perfect conformity with his perfect Son.

He’s not kidding around on this either. Our God is stubborn, zealous, and almighty, and he means what he says. This is the God who led his people with a pillar of fire to the promised land, bringing them out of the land of slavery with plagues and wonders and a strong and mighty hand. This is the God who sent his Beloved through the whips and thorns and nails of the cross to bridge the canyon-like chasm of our horrible sin and make us his sons and daughters. He is not fooling around.  If you are a believer in Jesus, you will one day be like him.

Case closed. It’s your destiny.

Idolatry versus Joy

Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever! Amen.  (Romans 1:22-25, ESV)

For some reason, I’ve recently become more aware of the ocean of idolatry I live in (and often swim in). Gone are the days when I would read of the Israelites rising up to play around the golden calf with a quizzical expression on my face. Idolatry can seem quaint, a relic from antiquity, but only when we are blind to what idolatry is. 

Here’s my definition: Idolatry is the expectation, pursued with our daily energy, that there is something out there that can make me happy in the ways that only God can.

There is much that we consider good that can be that graven image of a man, bird, animal or creeping things in our lives. Our family can be an idol. A relationship. Good music.. Our children. Technology – and before you roll your eyes, how excited were you for IOS 7? The day it came out my twitter feed turned into such a river of joy that for a moment I thought perhaps Jesus had returned.

Exchanging the glory of the Creator for the things that he has created is never good; it brings dishonor and destruction into our lives. It also, inevitably, brings disappointment. We weren’t designed to find ultimate satisfaction in things or people. But it doesn’t mean we don’t try. We keep replacing our idols with newer, shinier models because we have an innate knowledge that we were made for better things.

The mistake we make is trying to find joy in better things, or the next, better thrill, or a better relationship, or a better cause, or . . . you get the idea. The chase is fun for awhile, but it gets old. Running around in circles usually does. The scenery starts to look the same. Still excited about IOS 7?

Running after Jesus is the path of real joy, though our idols work very hard at blinding our eyes to that truth. One reason we find joy in Jesus is because Jesus’ path does not go in circles. It goes straight on and up! He is making all things new, including the daily joys of the former idolater who has found the true God that the false ones can only hope to imitate.

We were made by Him. They are made by us. Wise is the person who has compared the Creator’s credentials to those of us idol-makers and has chosen joy!


And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not.  And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.  Your clothing did not wear out on you and your foot did not swell these forty years.  Know then in your heart that, as a man disciplines his son, theLord your God disciplines you.

– Deuteronomy 8:2-5

Happy New Year!

The more I read the Old Testament, the more it seems to me that a major theme of the scripture can be summed up in one word: “Remember”. The Lord constantly reminds us to remember. Remember. Remember what I’ve done for you. Remember my might and my power.

Remember I have humbled you.

If I have cast you down, I will lift you up.

Remember how I made you hungry, and remember how I fed you.

Remember  you are not live only on  what your appetites dictate. Remember  real life is in Me, in My words.

Remember  I have preserved you and have provided for you.

Remember I have disciplined you. because I love you.

Remember. I love you.

2013 is past. 2014 is just beginning. May I remember.  In many ways 2013 has been a very challenging year. But He has above and beyond provided for us. He has humbled me. and Lord, did I need it. He has made me hungry for Him. He has me now, like never before, feasting on His word. He has disciplined me, and is not done disciplining me.

He has taught me how real idolatry is, and that if I read the history of Israel dismissive of them as they fall to idols again and again, it’s only because I’ve forgotten how to look in the mirror. My heart, as has been said elsewhere, is an idol factory. Idols lead to death. It hurts to see people I care about willingly carried away into idolatry.

The Bible makes it plain that one main reason we get carried away by our idols is that we have failed to remember.

He has shown me people who have nothing, in two different countries, to help me understand how much I have, and to learn to hold it loosely.

He has put people in my path who I didn’t know before, and has blessed me with their friendship, their encouragement, and has even blessed me with burdens for some of them. He has helped me to remember that thinking of others helps loosen pride’s iron-tight fixation on self.

He has taught me that prayer matters, and has helped me grieve, in a good way, upon my prayerlessness. He is bringing me along in prayer, with such a long way to go.

He has reminded me that he loves me. My pride would deny his love, because it appears undignified, because it appears illogical, and because pride would rather sit alone, starving, feeding itself on rocks than fall into the healing hands of the King who alone has the true food our souls crave. Thanks be to God, His love is also fierce and stubborn and relentless and it laughs for joy as it crushes Pride as fine as the dust.

He has helped me remember that service is not a burden, but a joy. I battle this because another idol in my life is sloth. Yes, that needs to be crushed too.

Hoping for more Jesus in 2014. And to always remember.