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Thursday, October 25, 2018

Idolatrous Lusts: They Darken Our Minds

My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore.  (Hosea 4:12) 

I’d like to do a short series on the issue of idolatry, answering the question, “what does idolatrous lust do to us?”  The prophets in particular have much to say about this.  Idolatry is not a problem relegated to the past.  The New Testament says to believers in Jesus, “flee from idolatry” and “keep yourselves from idols” (1 Cor 10:14; 1 John 5:21).  So, it behooves us to keep in mind the dangers and effects of the idols that call to us.

And idol is anything that is equal to or more important than God in our attention, desire, devotion, and choices.  It doesn’t have to be a statue of wood or metal, as in the Old Testament.  An idolatrous lust is our desire for that idol.  With that in mind, the first effect we can expect when we give in to an idolatrous lust is…

Our ability to think clearly is inhibited.  That is, idolatrous lust darkens our minds so that we behave in ways that we would not otherwise.  In this way, idols humiliate us.  Or more appropriately, they move us to humiliate ourselves.

The passage above in Hosea 4 demonstrates that at the heart of our idolatry is a propensity for unfaithfulness.  Speaking of the people of Israel, the prophet writes, “a spirit of whoredom has led them astray.”  In Hosea, unfaithfulness to God is depicted as spiritual adultery or whoredom.  The natural human disposition is to reject worshiping the creator in favor of worshiping created things (Rom 1:25).  When we give in to this lust, it causes us to do ridiculous things, like what is described in the first part of Hosea 4:12: My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles

An idol, which is nothing more than a piece of wood, made perhaps from the same piece of wood as a walking stick, is trusted to give the worshiper counsel.  Pure nonsense.  But it makes perfect sense to the one who has given himself over to false worship.  This phenomenon is what Paul describes in Romans 1:21 and Ephesians 4:18  - “They became futile in their thinking and their foolish hearts were darkened…” and  “they are darkened in their understanding…”  False worship destroys a person’s ability to think and act sensibly.  

Other prophets also show the absurdity of idolatry.  Isaiah depicts a carpenter cutting down a tree: Half of it he burns in the fire. Over the half he eats meat; he roasts it and is satisfied. Also he warms himself and says, "Aha, I am warm, I have seen the fire!" And the rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, and falls down to it and worships it. He prays to it and says, "Deliver me, for you are my god!” (Isa. 44:16-17)  The same piece of wood is fuel for a fire and a god called upon for salvation.  The idolator doesn’t even see how silly it is!

Jeremiah also writes about the delusion of idol worship, noting that these objects of worship “are like scarecrows in a cucumber field, and they cannot speak; they have to be carried, for they cannot walk. Do not be afraid of them, for they cannot do evil, neither is it in them to do good.” (Jer. 10:5)  This behavior seems perfectly reasonable to the false worshiper; it is the height of foolishness to those watching.  Such silliness is self-humiliation (Isa 44:9-11).

It’s easy for us to marvel at such blindness in others.  It’s much more difficult to spot these things in our own thinking.  Is it possible that our thinking also becomes darkened in our lust for idols?  Do we engage in ridiculous behavior as a result?  The answer to both questions must be “yes.”  Idolatrous lust, when entertained, by nature darkens the mind and moves us to act in ways contrary to sound wisdom.  Idolatry, at its foundation is demonic (Lev 17:7; Deut 32:17; Isa 106:37; 1 Cor 10:20; Rev 9:20).  Therefore, it can never be benign.  When we engage in it, we can be certain our thinking and actions are affected.  And just as if we were falling down before a piece of wood, we humiliate ourselves.

Just a few signs that our thinking has been darkened by idolatrous lust:

  • The moral commands of Scripture seem unreasonable to us (Gen 3:1)
  • Social and political issues are more important to us than spiritual ones (Col 3:1-2)
  • We love the things of the world (1 John 2:15)
  • We are consumed with sensual pleasures, rather than with Christ (1 Cor 10:1-12)
  • We have a sense of hopelessness and lack of peace (Eph 1:18; Phil 4:7)
  • We have a general disinterest in the Word (Matt 4:4; Acts 17:11)

We simply cannot think and live rightly while engaging in false worship.  The antidote is to constantly grow in our worship of the Lord Jesus Christ by enjoying fellowship with Him in the Word, prayer, and meaningful one-anothering with other believers.  If we are not growing in our worship of Jesus, we are growing in our worship of something else.  Our minds are either becoming more filled with the light of Christ, or the darkness of idolatrous lust.

Next time: we become like what we worship.   

Thursday, October 18, 2018

What is my spiritual gift?

What is my spiritual gift?

This is a question that arises anytime spiritual gifts are discussed in the church. On Sunday, we saw that Jesus has gifted every believer for the work of ministry.  We find these gifts mentioned in five passages in the New Testament, with some overlap among them:

Romans 12:6-8: prophecy, serving, teaching, exhorting, giving, leading, doing acts of mercy

1 Corinthians 12:8-10: utterance of wisdom, utterance of knowledge, faith, gifts of healings, working of miracles, ability to distinguish between spirits, various kinds of tongues, the interpretation of tongues

1 Corinthians 12:28: apostleship, prophecy, teaching, working of miracles, gifts of healings, helping, administration, various kinds of tongues

Ephesians 4:11: apostleship, prophecy, evangelism, shepherding/teaching

1 Peter 4:10-11: speaking, serving

Given that no two lists are identical, none of the lists can be considered exhaustive.  It may seem peculiar to us, but apparently neither Peter nor Paul felt it essential to give all the gifts in one place.  There are a couple of conclusions that could be drawn from this.  

First, the gifts listed in the NT may or may not be all the gifts there are.  It’s difficult to say with certainty.  Obviously, both apostles listed some gifts, omitting others.  Perhaps this indicates that there are some that are not on any list in the NT.  Still, it could be that the Holy Spirit purposed to sprinkle the exhaustive list throughout the NT without any one list having all the gifts.   

Second - and this conclusion is more significant, in my opinion - it must be the case that an exhaustive list was not necessary for the exercise of the gifts.  If knowing all the gifts was necessary in order to practice the gifts, then we would have to deduce that Paul had no desire for the Romans to practice the gift of evangelism.  This seems highly unlikely to me.

Likewise, if knowing a gift is required in order to exercise it, Peter must have had no desire for any of the gifts to be practiced, except two: speaking and serving.  Even if we understand Peter's two gifts to refer to categories into which all the other gifts fit, we are still left with the same conclusion.  It must not be necessary for the specific gifts to be known in order for them to be exercised.

Ephesians chapter 4 shows this clearly.  As we saw on Sunday, every believer has received a gift for ministry, and yet Paul only specifically mentions the equipping gifts there.  If the individual gifts had to have been known exhaustively in order for them to be practiced, then Paul made a serious oversight by not listing them in a passage where he calls for them to be exercised.

Further, if it is essential for any individual believer to know what his or her particular gift is, it seems peculiar that there is zero teaching in the NT giving instruction about how to determine one's gift.  In each of the above passages, believers are exhorted to serve one another through these gifts, but they are given no direction regarding how to determine the gifts they've been given.  

Additionally, the NT nowhere gives definitions of these gifts.  The nature of some of the gifts may be obvious given context clues and the meaning of the names themselves.  For example, teaching seems to be a no-brainer.  But what is discerning of different kinds of spirits?  What is the difference between an utterance of wisdom and an utterance of knowledge?  What is the difference between helping and serving?  How do we know if we are doing one of these and not the other?  Answers to these questions do not seem to be essential for the exercise of the gifts themselves since the apostles give us no direction on these issues.  (This is why I’m not a fan of spiritual gift assessements/inventories - they fill in too many details left blank by the NT.)

It seems reasonable then to conclude that a believer does not need to know his or her particular gift in order to practice it.  

So how can I exercise a gift that I don’t know I have?  We may find a clue to unraveling this mystery in 1 Corinthians 12:7, where Paul says of the gifts, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”  The gifts are manifestation of the Spirit living inside believers.  In one person, He manifests Himself in one way; in another believer, He manifests Himself in another way.  Perhaps this is why it is not essential for an individual to know their gift in order to exercise it - it is the work of the Spirit in them.

With that in mind, I would encourage two actions:

First, walk closely with the Lord.  Since these gifts are manifestations of the Spirit, it makes sense that the more I walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:16), the more the Word of Christ dwells in me richly (Col 3:16), the more I am by the Spirit putting to death the deeds of the body (Rom 8:13), the more subject to His power and use I will be.

2 Tim 2:20-22 points in this direction: Now in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver but also of wood and clay, some for honorable use, some for dishonorable. Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.  The more I flee sin and pursue faithfulness, the more useful I am to the Lord.  

So walk closely with the Lord that the Spirit may have His way with you.

I have been a believer serving in the church long enough that I have discerned, and the people around me have affirmed, that I have been gifted to teach.  I’ve noticed a pattern over the years.  When I’m walking closely with the Lord, I have a deep desire to teach.  When I’m not walking closely with the Lord, I could take it or leave it.  Again, it is not necessary to know your gift in order to exercise it, but when you walk with the Lord, you’ll likely naturally desire to do particular things as the Spirit has His way with you. 

Second, look for areas of need in the lives of the other members of the body and start to serve them, trusting the Spirit to minister through you in whatever capacity He chooses.  The Spirit will manifest Himself in a particular way through you in your service.  

I saw the gifts of the elders manifesting themselves in natural ways last week as we all moved to minister to the Phillips family.  Biblically, as elders, we all have the same broad tasks.  But in that situation, as we were all shepherding in some of the same ways, our different gifting came out in our shepherding.  Those with the gift of mercy contributed something that those with the gift of administration could not, and vice-versa.  There was no pow-wow on the front end where the six elders got together and said, “okay, y’all are gifted to teach, y’all are gifted to organize, y’all are gifted to show mercy…so here’s how we’ll split up everything that needs to be done to minister to this family.”  No, we all just naturally started working in the area of our giftedness as the Spirit led.  

That same phenomenon took place in the rest of the congregation as people moved to minister in particular ways.  When we get hung up on the question, “what is my gift?” self-focus can tend to be a pitfall.  When we understand these are gifts of the Spirit that will naturally manifest themselves as we submit to Him and serve the body, focus on ourselves is minimized and we’re far more likely to minister effectively.  As we grow, we are likely to discern our gifting, affirmed by those around us.  But this is not necessary in order to begin to minister.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

Hilda on God's Goodness

We wanted so badly for the Lord to give Hilda more time, more years.  We prayed fervently to that end.  She suffered so well, consistently clinging to the Lord and pointing us to Jesus that it seemed to me hers was the perfect case in which the Lord could bring Himself maximum glory by also granting physical healing.  I was so hopeful that He would, not only because I wanted us all to continue knowing and enjoying Hilda, but also because I wanted to see Him magnified.  With her passing, I initially struggled with the Lord’s course.

But Hilda helped me.  She wrote something on Friday, July 6 that I was blessed to read this week. Hilda wanted to be healed, but more than that she wanted the people around her to know the blessedness of salvation through Jesus.  She wanted them to know that He is good…all the time.  She was willing to suffer illness and death if that meant others would see Him more clearly.  Here is an excerpt of what she wrote:

“As I was driving home yesterday and I was listening to a Christian radio station someone called to say she was cancer free.  She said, ‘God is good.’  Yes, He is good.  But 3 months or years from now, will she still proclaim His goodness?  

I’m not sure about my future/health…I want to praise Him on the good, but just as much on the bad…It’s easy when all is well, but when troubles come we can become afraid and desperate.  So we must live out our faith daily!”   

No one questions God’s goodness during easy times.  Occasionally, He gives us the opportunity to know and show His goodness, His sufficiency during difficulty.  It was Hilda’s privilege to do this.  Throughout the pain and uncertainty, praise for the Lord was on her lips.  She demonstrated that He is good in sickness and death.  

Psalm 63:3 reads, Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  I’m so grateful to have read this sentiment throughout Hilda’s last months.  Hilda was not afraid to die.  Why?  His love is better than life.  Jesus is better than life.  She was certain of this.  Now, she’s all the more certain.

How can we second-guess this course, which has shown a woman praising Jesus from diagnosis to final breath?  He has been maximally glorified in her suffering and death.  May He be glorified as we cling to His goodness in mourning.

I look forward to remembering Hilda and magnifying Jesus with you at her memorial service on Saturday.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Free Money for the Orphan Care Ministry!

Our Orphan Care Ministry servants are on the lookout for ways to raise funds for adoption fees.  We have a new way to receive what amounts to FREE money for our Lifesong Adoption Fund.

Do you ever order anything from Amazon?  Well, Amazon will donate to your favorite charity a portion of every dollar you spend through Amazon Smile.  It's just like shopping at Amazon with all the same products and prices, but you simply shop at a different web address.  All you have to do is go to and choose "Providence Bible Fellowship" as your charity of choice.  Each quarter, the Amazon Smile Foundation will send the donations to the church.  These donations will be added to our Lifesong Adoption Fund to be used to support adoptions.  It doesn't add a single penny to any purchase you make!

We have our own unique link that will take you straight to a page with Providence as the default charity.  Click here to choose Providence Bible Fellowship as your preferred charity.

Keep in mind that in order for the purchase to count towards the funds donated to the Orphan Care ministry, you need to shop at the address as opposed to the normal address.  You don’t need a separate Amazon Smile account.  Just use your normal Amazon account and sign-in at the Smile address.

Here is a screenshot of my page from the normal website:

Here is my page from the website:

They function exactly the same, have all the same products and prices, and are almost identical, except, the top banner of the Amazon Smile page identifies itself in the upper lefthand corner and it shows the charity I have chosen:

Again, this is like free money.  Amazon makes the donation, not you.  Please help us raise support for adoption fees by directing your Amazon purchases through Amazon Smile!