Thursday, June 30, 2011

Idolatry 2

Idolatry:  the belief that some idea, person, accomplishment, circumstance, institution, etc. is more reliable and more able to bring me to a place of joy and rest - AKA: is more trustworthy than - the character, word and person of Christ.

How ridiculous is that?!  As Christians, we know and feel the absurdity of that statement, and yet we often live our lives subtly placing our trust in someone or something other than Christ.

Isaiah (ch. 44) tells the story of a man who ventures into the woods with tools he has made himself and cuts down a tree.  In the process of doing so, his brow sweats (hmmm...), and he becomes weary and thirsty because he himself is a mere creature.  He hauls the tree home.  From one section he chops wood for a fire by which he can warm himself and cook his food.  He takes another section of the tree and carves a beautiful image before whom he falls down and prays, "Deliver me, for thou art my god!" 

We rightly scoff and laugh at this man's absurdity!  He cries out for deliverance from something he has made with his own hands!  He falls down before a block of wood!   Jeremiah (ch. 10) mockingly compares these idols to a scarecrow in a cucumber field!  They can't walk...they have to be carried!  They can't see or speak or hear or DO anything!  

Psalm 115 also mocks these worthless idols who are blind, deaf, lame and dumb.  And...the Psalmist tells us...those who make and worship these idols, will become like them!

Our own idolatries - even though we don't literally carve an image and beg it to save us - are as futile and ridiculous as the man's in Isaiah!  We creatures take good gifts, which have been created for us and distributed to us by the True God, and we fashion them with our own hands (or minds) into something we hope will save us...that is, deliver us from trouble and bring us to a place of joy and rest.  As a result,  we become as empty and worthless as the image in which we trust.

But there is hope for us!  Just as Jesus Christ came into the idol-laden culture of Israel and exposed their idolatry, so He can expose ours as well!  How did He expose them?  Israel had become like the idols they worshipped: blind, deaf, dumb and lame, so He came into their midst and began restoring their eyes, ears, limbs and mouths.    

In the same way, He can enter our lives with power to expose, heal and restore us from our idolatries.  May we, by faith, welcome Him...even follow hard after Him, seeking to merely touch the hem of His garment if only He will make us whole.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Idolatry 1

I don't know whether this is an error of culture, modernity, youth, or whether  it is a universal error of mankind, but throughout my Christian life, my perspective on sin has largely been one of sin as moral failure.  

What I mean is that I have seen sin primarily as doing what is forbidden (sins of commission) or failure to do what is required (sins of omission).  While these distinctions might be helpful for categorizing sins, they can also leave us with the strong impression that sin is first and foremost moral failure...a breaking of the Law, so to speak.

Before you panic, let me clarify something.  I am not attempting to negate the reality of God's commandments, nor am I denying that moral failure is real failure and real sin.  But again, this truncated view of sin not only leaves us with a very anemic understanding, but also promotes legalism, which either produces a smug self-satisfaction (because I see myself as keeping the Law), or it leaves us carrying an unnecessarily heavy load of guilt (because I see my constant failure to keep the Law). 

The biggest problem with this view, is that it does not strike at the root of the sin.  It is about doing or not doing.  Being or not being.  My will.  My choices.  My decisions.  But this is only the beginning and a childish, immature perspective on sin.

I would suggest that whatever way our particular sins are manifest, the root of every single one is idolatry, but we have to train ourselves to see it.  The moral failure is only the outward manifestation of an inner idolatrous belief or unbelief.

Perhaps this is not such a profound realization, but for me, as I apply it to my own sins, it presents a significant shift.  In the past, when I have looked underneath the surface of my sins, I might have recognized a failure to trust God, or a commitment to please myself, but even in that I saw primarily a moral failure to be or to do what I ought
Maybe I can illustrate what I mean:

Let's say (and this is purely hypothetical, you know) a mom loses her cool with her children, yelling at and even belittling them ("Why don't you"..."Can't you just"..."How many times"..."Will you ever"...?!!).   This mother has violated God's Law in venting her anger this way.  More to the heart of it, she has not treated them the way she would want to be treated, violating the all-encompassing law of love.  But in order to deal most fully with her sin, this mom needs to look further than just her failure.  Somewhere in her heart, this mom has an idol.

An idol is anything to which we look for satisfaction, joy, peace, rest.  Very often we assume "Self" is the idol, and it may often be, but we also tend to idolize ideas, institutions, ideals, or other people.  I imagine that it might have been easier to identify idols of the heart back when we actually erected shrines in our homes to gods and goddesses.  But since we no longer do that, we have to do the hard work of soul-searching.

So, back to our hypothetical angry mom.  She lost her temper because she has placed her confidence in something and it has been frustrated, leading to angry outbursts.  Perhaps her idol is motherhood itself and her ideal image of mothering is being dismantled!  Perhaps her idol is the idea of a Christian home and her efforts to create that reality are being thwarted by these hooligans!  Perhaps the children themselves are the idol and she cannot abide their imperfections!  Perhaps her idol is other's view of her...she needs to be seen as a good mom by others.   Ultimately, there is some heart commitment that has set itself up as a source of life...that which will fulfill, satisfy, bring contentment or joy.  This is her idol, and until she identifies where she has placed her expectations and her confidence...her TRUST...she will continue to deal ineffectively with her sin.

So it is with all sin.  It looks like - and IS - an outward moral failure, but the heart of it is an idolatrous trust...confidence in something or someone other than the Triune God.  And it isn't just the obvious things or "bad" things (like material possessions...) that we are prone to idolize.  It can be GOOD things...getting married, having a child, faithful children, opportunities to use my gifts, Christian education, health, friendships, marriage, talents, recognition, godly leadership, ease, intellect, success, recreation, etc.  These are things to be desired and welcomed...but not TRUSTED IN.

I don't pretend that viewing our sin this way is a simple shift in thinking that changes everything.  It can be very difficult for us to identify our idols.  Once we do, it can still be very difficult to acknowledge the truth of what we have seen...we are good at talking ourselves out of the truth.  It can be still more difficult, once we identify and acknowledge our idolatry, to destroy it.  Afterall, it often presents itself in a beautiful form which we don't want to destroy!

I am trying to learn to examine my own sin in this way.  And for reasons I don't yet fully understand, when I finally identify the idolatry behind a particular sin, I seem to more easily find freedom from the weight of it.   Maybe it's as simple as having actually repented of the REAL sin and not just the outward expression of it.  I don't know.

What I do know, is that the Lord is gracious and compassionate, and whether or not I get to the heart of my sin, He hears my confession and forgives me.  He forgives my moral failure and He forgives my idolatry and unbelief.  Thanks be to God. 

Monday, June 27, 2011

Music Monday: Sisters

Andrews Sisters
(another song from the old Reader's Digest collection)

Quebe Sisters

Monday, June 20, 2011

Musical Monday: Herb Alpert

My acquaintance with Herb Alpert stems back to my childhood non-TV days.  For entertainment, we'd gather round the console stereo and listen to the only secular music we ever owned: a Reader's Digest Vinyl Record Collection which shall remain unnamed...but only because I can't remember its name!

Here were two of our favorites: 

Spanish Flea

Whipped Cream

Had these come in their original album covers, we would never have been allowed to listen to them, so thankfully they were "masked" in the Digest's ugly brown slipcases.  


Sunday, June 19, 2011

Do Not Fear

I was awakened by an extraordinarily loud, long and violent thunderstorm in the wee hours of this morning.   In that drowsy state of half-wakefulness, snippets of Psalms and hymns passed through my head.  You know, the hymn about the mighty voice of God which breaks the cedars of Lebanon.  And the Psalms which speak of Him hurling his arrows and thundering from the heavens.

These thoughts flitted through my mind during a particularly fierce roll of thunder, and I felt a sense that standing in the presence of this God, whose voice alone invokes such power, would be utterly terrifying.  Then...I promptly fell back to sleep.

This morning, upon waking, I questioned whether I take God too lightly.  How else could I experience such a majestic and fearful display, yet dismiss it so easily?  But you know what I concluded?  This is an appropriate response for a Christian!

Our God IS awesomely terrifying in His power.  And yes...we are weak and sinful, and we ought to feel the import of that somewhere along the way.  But only briefly.  It is good, right and beneficial that our primary and most lasting response, even to His power, should be one of confidence and rest!  We ought to be certain enough of His goodness to us in Jesus Christ to believe wholeheartedly that all that wrath and power were already absorbed by The Son on the cross when He gave Himself up for us.

Because I am in Christ, I can be faced with and awed by that fearful combination of God's holiness and His absolute power, and yet be at complete peace about the prospect of facing Him.  

Thanks be to God for this Unspeakable Gift.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011


by: Edna St. Vincent Millay

If I grow bitterly,
Like a gnarled and stunted tree,
Bearing harshly of my youth
Puckered fruit that sears the mouth;
If I make of my drawn boughs
An Inhospitable House,
Out of which I never pry
Towards the water and the sky,
Under which I stand and hide
And hear the day go by outside;
It is that a wind too strong
Bent my back when I was young,
It is that I fear the rain
Lest it blister me again.

And The People Were Silent

Inhumane.  Barbaric.  Entirely incomprehensible.


We should give thanks for Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who risked his life and broke the silence to record and publish The Gulag Archipelago, an account of his and other's experiences of 20th century life in the USSR.

It absolutely blows my mind that torture and murder occurred on such an incredibly massive scale, with very little attention or opposition, in my lifetime.  (I suspect my children may feel the same horror 40 years from now when reading personal chronicles from the early 21st century.  Perhaps not...but it seems we never know the full scale of human barbarity until decades later.  Are we just that good at closing our eyes and turning our heads away from hard truths?  After all we know of history, can we still not bring ourselves to believe such atrocities are happening now?  Or are the evil ones just that good at masking their evil deeds?)

I mean no disrespect to men such as Frederick Douglass or Olaudah Equiano when I say that the abuses of the African slave trade, which rightly appall us, pale in comparison to the grave and excessive abuses of power in The Soviet Union.  The unnatural death toll estimates range from 20,000,000 to upwards of 100,000,000 during this time...but remember, these numbers don't include all those SURVIVING victims.


Millions and millions and millions of men and women  were subjected, without evidence or cause, to some of the most grotesque living conditions the human mind can imagine or endure.  Torture and executions were standard fare, but sometimes offered welcome relief from the rot of daily life. 

Some of the hardest accounts for me to read were of daily life for these prisoners: just enough "food" to keep the body alive...the misery and pain of dehydration...the confusion and disorientation of continually interrupted sleep...the stench, disease and bugs from no bathing for months...50+ bodies (most of whom had soiled themselves repeatedly) crammed into a space that holds 18.  And these details only touch the basic physical conditions they endured.  They experienced continual mental and psychological abuses as well.  Most of these prisoners were very ordinary people...not powerful, not brilliant, not wealthy or successful, not posing any obvious threat to those in power...just ordinary folk living simple lives with their families and neighbors.  Until they were "chosen."


I am profoundly amazed at the ability of the human spirit to undergo such inhumanity while maintaining hope!  Hope that they will live.  Hope that they will eventually be free and return to a normal life.  Hope that one day justice will be done.  

I urge you to read The Gulag if you haven't.  I confess I found it tedious at times...especially the first 3-400 pages.  So, pick it up and start with Chapter 10, if you want: The Law Matures.  You'll miss something of Solzhenitsyn's wisdom and the big picture, but trust me, you'll get a pretty good idea of the heinous crimes committed against millions of our brothers and sisters, you may be less inclined to turn your head away from reports of current atrocities, and more inclined to speak up.  And I can guarantee that your view of your own "sufferings" will be significantly altered!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Name That Flower

Musical Monday: Three Pickers

I am a perpetual sucker for the banjo, the mandolin, the guitar, and tight harmonies.  Put them all together, and I am in musical heaven.  

This video brings together 3 musicians whose accomplishments on their respective instruments are legendary. 

Earl Scruggs - banjo
Ricky Skaggs - mandolin'
Doc Watson - guitar

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Wordsmith Wednesday


satio (v) - to fill


satisfy, satisfaction, satisfactory

sate, satiate, satiety, satiability, insatiable

saturate, saturation

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Today I am giving thanks to God for a mother who is willing to continue parenting me at age 45!  She is always at the ready with a listening ear, an open mind, a compassionate heart and, when appropriate, with wise counsel. 

I really don't know what I'd do without her.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Name That Flower

Musical Monday: Stacey Kent

I first found Stacey Kent through a recommendation from i-Tunes...and what a find she was!  Though many of her recordings are in French, her album The Boy Next Door is entirely accessible to us English-only speakers.  This number is from that album:   

The following is an offering from Breakfast on the Morning Tram:

Check her out and ENJOY!