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Thursday, November 29, 2018

Book Recommendation: We Become What We Worship

 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.
 Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.
 (Psa 115:4-8)

What is one of the greatest dangers of worshiping false gods? We become like them.  That is, we become spiritually blind, deaf, and dumb.  What the psalmist makes explicit in Psalm 115 is assumed and implied all over Scripture: we take on the characteristics of what we worship. If we worship idols, we become like them.  If we worship Christ, we become like Him.

This was the main idea of the most recent article in our blog series on idolatry.  It is also the main theme explored in a book I recommended there: Gregory K. Beale’s We Become What We Worship: A Biblical Theology of Idolatry.  Beale is a biblical scholar currently serving as Professor of New Testament and Biblical Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.  The title of the book reveals his thesis in paraphrased form.  He asserts that we become what we worship, that is, “what people revere, they resemble, either for ruin or restoration” (16). 

Beale explores this idea beginning in Isaiah 6:9-10: And he said, "Go, and say to this people: "'Keep on hearing, but do not understand; keep on seeing, but do not perceive.'  Make the heart of this people dull, and their ears heavy, and blind their eyes; lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their hearts, and turn and be healed."  He argues that having eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear, and hearts that do not understand—represents a judgment for idolatry.  In other words, the judgment for worshiping idols is becoming like them.

He then takes this theme and shows its presence in numerous places throughout the Bible, including the golden calf narrative in Exodus 32 and the Pharisees’ worship of tradition in Matthew 13.  Throughout, he is faithful to allow the Biblical text to speak without forcing his thesis onto the Word. 

But the value of this book goes beyond its faithfulness to the text.  In the latter portion of the book, Beale applies this biblical truth to everyday life.  There may not be any of us at Providence who bow down to literal idols, but undoubtedly there are things in our lives that fit the definition Beale derives from Scripture: “whatever your heart clings to and relies upon for ultimate security” (17).  If we love and worship the world, we will become more like the world.  If we worship the god of pleasure, we will become more hedonistic.  Beale challenges readers to search their own hearts, to turn from whatever idols they are worshiping, and worship Christ alone.

This is an excellent book that is very faithful to Scripture.  Many of its passages are deep, but unlike many scholarly writings out there, it does not require a PhD to understand.  If you are interested in study that will broaden your understanding of a critically important doctrine and spur you on to greater fidelity to the Lord, I highly recommend this one.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

HUGE Weekend Events - Don't Miss Anything!

Just a few important reminders about a very big weekend!
  1. Cyclebar Orphan Care Fundraiser -  Saturday, Nov 17, 11:15am
       7306 Yankee Road, Liberty Township, Ohio 45044

Cyclebar is a premium, indoor cycling facility.  We’ll be taking a one-hour ride, led by our very own Amber Clay.  It’s only $25 and 100% of the proceeds go to the PBF Orphan Care fund, helping bring orphans home to adoptive families at PBF.  

This is going to be a blast!  No exercise experience is required, which is good news for me because I’ve got no cardio!  Just click the link above to register.  Let’s ride! 

2. Orphan Sunday Message - Sunday, Nov 18, 9:00 & 10:45

The message on Sunday morning, from Hosea 14:1-3, will focus on our adoption by God through the atoning work of Christ.  If you have any unsaved friends or those who are adopted or have adopted, please invite them to church Sunday morning.  The message will take their experience of adoption and relate it to the gospel.  I know of at least one unsaved person in this category who will attend Sunday morning.  Please be praying for the gospel to bring spiritual orphans home! 

3. City Barbecue Orphan Care Fundraiser - Sunday, Nov 18, all day
    7706 Voice of America Centre Dr, West Chester, Ohio 45069

City Barbecue is donating 25% of all proceeds to the PBF Orphan Care fund.  This is an all-day fundraiser.  You can go there after church for lunch.  You can go for dinner just before the Orphan Care celebration that evening.  You can go for a snack after the Orphan Care celebration.  OR, if you’re like Aaron Harrison, you can go all three times.  The later you go in the day, the more likely you are to see Aaron passed out in a booth - barbecue coma!

Here’s the important detail - the funds are only donated to the Orphan Care fund if you take the appropriate barcode with you to the cashier when you pay.  We’ve passed these out in recent weeks.  They’ll be available again on Sunday morning.

4. PBF Orphan Care Ministry Celebration - Sunday, Nov 18, 5:30-7:00pm

This is our annual gathering to praise God for all that He has done and is doing at PBF to bring orphans home.  MUCH important information will be shared about upcoming events, including one major evangelistic opportunity taking place in the Spring.  We’ll hear from our adoptive families - those who have recently brought children home and those who are in the process.  

Since this ministry began, we've seen great things happen on Orphan Sunday.  Two years ago on Orphan Sunday, we heard how the Lord had moved the Odels to consider adoption.  That same year, the Joneses were moved to complete their paperwork for an international adoption.  One year later on Orphan Sunday, we had Odel adoptee #1 with us in the flesh, the Joneses heard that they had been approved for their international adoption, and the Watsons were moved to adopt a child.  As I write this, the Odels are preparing for #2, the Watsons’ adopted son is in their home, and the Joneses are meeting their adopted son for the first time TODAY.  Prior to this, we were blessed by the example of those we might call the pioneers - people like the Robsons and the Clays - so that we are seeing something like a culture of adoption take place at Providence.  All along the way, the Lord has moved others in the congregation to help in myriad ways, some of which we’ll hear about Sunday night.

The Lord has routinely chosen to change lives at PBF on Orphan Care Sunday.  We’ve come to expect it.  What will He do this year?  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Idolatrous Lusts - They Re-make Us In Their Image

Thus far, we’ve seen that idolatrous lusts darken our minds and blind us to the source of blessing and calamity.  Another broad theme in the Bible is that idolatrous lusts re-make us in the image of our idol.  

Re-make is the appropriate verb since in the beginning God created us in his image (Gen 1:26-27).  Even in our fallen state, we bear the image of our Creator God, however imperfectly.  

The pleasure of our malevolent enemy is to adulterate everything that God has made, putting his perverted spin on the Lord’s good work.  Thus, the bible describe idols as having a transforming influence on us.  They re-make us in their image.  The more they claim our affections and devotion, the more we resemble them and the less we resemble God.  As Greg Beale argues in his book by the same name, we become like what we worship.  Consider these texts:

But they came to Baal-peor and consecrated themselves to the thing of shame, and became detestable like the thing they loved.  (Hos. 9:10)

Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.  They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.  They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.  They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; and they do not make a sound in their throat.  Those who make them become like them; so do all who trust in them.  (Ps. 115:4-8)

Thus says the LORD: "What wrong did your fathers find in me that they went far from me, and went after worthlessness, and became worthless?  (Jer. 2:5)

They despised his statutes and his covenant that he made with their fathers and the warnings that he gave them. They went after false idols and became false, and they followed the nations that were around them, concerning whom the LORD had commanded them that they should not do like them.  (2 Ki. 17:15)

Even in God’s frequent description of Israel as a “stiff-necked” people, this concept is communicated.  That phrase is almost always used in association with the people’s worship of the golden calf (Exo 32:9; 33:3, 5; 34:9; Deut 9:6, 13).  The idea is that the Israelites were like a rebellious calf, resisting its master.

Again, we should not think that the effects of idolatry are unique to the people who worship physical statues.  The characteristics mentioned in several of the passages above are metaphors for spiritual blindness, deafness, insensitivity.  It appears that idols make us insensitive to the things of the Lord.  

If you think about your own history, you’ll see this is the case.  Isn’t it true that when other things claim your highest devotion/affection, you are least sensitive to the things of the Lord?  Isn’t it true that when you are most taken with the things of the world, you are least interested in spiritual things?  This should be terrifying to those who know just how badly we need Him as we navigate life in this broken world.

We can be certain - idols are not idle; they are constantly moving on us.  If we are not killing our lust for them, we are becoming like them.  

Conversely, Paul teaches in Romans 8:29 that God’s gracious plan is to transform those who belong to Him into the image of His Son, in a sense, to restore the image of God marred by the Fall.  Those of us who have been bought by the blood of Jesus should be disturbed by the thought of our being transformed into the image of an idol rather than into the image of Christ.  

The good news is that this principle - we become like what we worship - works both ways.  Thus, we should conscientiously set our minds and affections on Him to the end that we would be come like Him (Rom 12:1-2; Phil 3:7-11; Col 3:1-5; Heb 12:1-3; 1 Pet 2:4-5).  Overcoming idolatry is never just about getting rid of an idol.  There must be an accompanying growth in our worship of Jesus, a reordering or right ordering of our affections, so that He is in His rightful place in our minds and hearts.  Taking the fight to the enemy means taking our affections to Jesus by availing ourselves of the means He’s given: word, prayer, and the Body of Christ.

Next time: a broader case for idolatry as the domain of demons.


Thursday, November 1, 2018

Idolatrous Lusts - They Blind Us to the Source of Blessing and Calamity

Why do we chase after false gods?  Indulge in idolatrous lusts?  Overindulge in non-sinful activities?  (An idol can be even a non-sinful activity that becomes equal to or more important than God in our attention, desire, devotion, and choices.)  Why do we habitually engage in overtly sinful ones?  It must be the case that we believe we receive some personal benefit from it and that the benefit outweighs any trouble that may arise. 

This belief - that idolatry can do us good - is itself an effect of idolatrous lust.  Last week, we began to consider the influence of idolatrous lusts, particularly how they affect our thinking.  Today we consider how they confuse us regarding the sources of both blessing and trouble in our lives.

The Lord told His people that if they were faithful to Him, worshiping Him alone, they would be blessed; if they were unfaithful, engaging in idolatry, they would be cursed (Deut 11:26-32; 29:1-30:20).  Joy and freedom come from worshiping Jesus alone (Psa 16:1-3; 5-11).  Trouble and sorrow inevitably find those who chase false gods (Psa 16:4).

Idolatrous lust blinds us to these truths.  In fact, idolatrous lust flips these truths on their heads so that we believe the opposite of what the Bible teaches regarding worship and the source of blessing and joy, calamity and sorrow.  Consequently, we may view our idols as the source of our blessings, when in reality they are the reason for our calamity.   

Just a couple of examples from the prophets.  Hosea wrote of Israel: For she said, 'I will go after my lovers, who give me my bread and my water, my wool and my flax, my oil and my drink.’ (Hos. 2:5b)

Israel engaged in the false worship of the nations around her so that the false gods would give rain, bless the crops, grow the herds, increase the vineyards, etc.  When these blessings happened, the Israelites attributed it to the power of the false gods, who they themselves had made (14:3). 

But where did these blessings actually come from?  The One from whom all good things come: she did not know that it was I who gave her the grain, the wine, and the oil, and who lavished on her silver and gold, which they used for Baal.  (Hos. 2:8)  God graciously gave what Israel did not deserve - land and the fruit of the land.  But because Israel was blinded to the source, she was also prevented from enjoying the greatest blessing of all, knowing God (2:20; 4:1, 6; 6:3).

That was Israel.  A theme of Hosea is the exhortation for the Southern kingdom, Judah, to learn from her obstinate Northern sister, Israel.  Did she learn?  Not according to Jeremiah.

When Jeremiah called the people of Judah to return to monogamous worship of the Lord, they replied, "As for the word that you have spoken to us in the name of the LORD, we will not listen to you.  But we will do everything that we have vowed, make offerings to the queen of heaven and pour out drink offerings to her, as we did, both we and our fathers, our kings and our officials, in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem. For then we had plenty of food, and prospered, and saw no disaster.  But since we left off making offerings to the queen of heaven and pouring out drink offerings to her, we have lacked everything and have been consumed by the sword and by famine.”  (Jer. 44:16-18)

Important to note is that this is during the exile.  In other words, Judah interpreted the exile and its aftermath to be a result of failing to continue in their false worship!  “Everything was great for us when we worshiped the queen of heaven.  Since we stopped, all this bad stuff has happened to us.  So we’re going to go back to worshiping her instead of Yahweh.”  Astounding.  

But Jeremiah set them straight:  "As for the offerings that you offered in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem, you and your fathers, your kings and your officials, and the people of the land, did not the LORD remember them? Did it not come into his mind?  The LORD could no longer bear your evil deeds and the abominations that you committed. Therefore your land has become a desolation and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day.  It is because you made offerings and because you sinned against the LORD and did not obey the voice of the LORD or walk in his law and in his statutes and in his testimonies that this disaster has happened to you, as at this day.  (Jer. 44:21-23)

Judah’s idolatry led to their purging from the land.  Yet, she was so blinded by idolatrous lust that she thought the opposite - worship of Yahweh alone led to her losing the land.  In reality, her idolatry brought judgment upon her.  Had she remained faith to the Lord, she would have remained in the land forever, enjoying all the blessings promised.

It’s tempting to relegate these things to the ancient past and to limit the application to false worship of little statues, but this is pertinent to us.  So writes Paul, “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come…Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry” (1 Cor. 10:11,14).

We, too, become convinced that good things happen to us when we engage in false worship.  These “good things” can be the idols themselves - material things, money, position, entertainment.  Or they could be the immediate endorphin rush of sensual pleasures associated with a particular idol - the thrill of looking at explicit images, the warmth of a gluttonous binge, or the buzz that comes with a certain quantity of an alcoholic beverage.  

Think about how these “good things” may convince us that they are improving our lives.  When we indulge in them, our problems seem smaller, our self-perception improves, we “enjoy” life more, and anxiety fades.  But when we try to be faithful to the Lord in these areas, abstaining from sinful activities and enjoying lawful activities only in moderation, these “benefits” seem to fade.  Worse, when these things become so essential to our temporal happiness, we may even begin to see God as an enemy of sorts, trying to take our good things away.

The truth is that every truly good thing is a gift from God (James 1:17) and the highest pleasure comes from fellowship with Him (Psa 16:10-11).  

Additionally, the false worship that we believe is improving our lives will actually ruin them.  Isaiah warns us, Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isa. 5:20).  Sin destroys.  Idolatrous lust sears the conscience, leading us further and further away from the Lord.  If you find yourself attributing benefits to something you know to be sinful, you are already showing signs that it has effected your thinking.  It has sold you a lie.  This shouldn’t surprise us - the enemy is the father of lies (John 8:44) and repeatedly idols themselves are called “lies” (Psa 40:4; Isa 28:15, 17; 44:20; Jer 13:25; 16:19-20; Amos 2:4; Rom 1:25).

We must remain firmly attached to the truth, by: (1) renewing our minds daily by the Word of God (Rom 12:2; Heb 4:12); (2) submitting to close relationships with other believers who may be much better able to discern the lies we are believing (Eccl 4:12; 2 Tim 2:22); and (3) praying for discernment: Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!  (Ps. 139:23-24). 

Know for certain that when you flirt with idolatrous lusts, you take in lies.  They will typically include lies intended to lead you closer to darkness and away from light, closer to misery and away from joy, further into idolatry and away from the Lord.