The Joy of Glory

Discovering endless joy in the boundless glory of God…

Month: July, 2013

Mental or Metal (part 1)

A few years ago, I found myself standing atop the exterior wall of the Shaniwar Wada in downtown Pune, India.  My mind was swirling from the experience of being immersed in an Eastern culture for the first time.  Life here was so different…so foreign.  The overcrowded streets were drowning in fast-paced traffic, while the city itself moved to the much slower rhythm typical of Indian life.  It was a beautiful moment and a beautiful scene.

Then something caught my eye…

Along one sidewalk, I notice32-goldencalfd a long line of people waiting to purchase various items before entering a particular building.

Curiosity overtook me, and I asked my host why these people were waiting.  He responded very non-chalantly, “They are purchasing gifts on their way into the temple.  There they will present their offerings before statues of various Hindu gods.”

Idol worship.

I had never before come face-to-face with full-blown idol worship.  The scene, which was so “normal” to my host, was incredibly foreign to me.

Idolatry like this doesn’t exist within the western world in which I live.  I mean…I have read about this kind of idol worship.  It is all over the pages of the Bible.  Scripture condemns idolatry again and again.  For crying out loud, the first two of the ten commandments concern idolatry:

1.  You shall have no other gods before me (Ex. 20:3).

2.  You shall not make for yourself any carved image (Ex. 20:4a).

The prophets, particularly, condemn idolatry.  The book of Hosea is a prime example:

Hosea 4:12, 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 11:2, The more they were called, the more they went away; they kept sacrificing to the Baals and burning offerings to idols.

Hosea’s own marriage to a prostitute serves as a picture of how God’s people unfaithfully went after other gods, and God’s estimation of this practice isn’t pretty…he calls it “whoredom.”

God pictures his relationship with his people as a marriage, thus, when his people are unfaithful they are committing flagrant adultery.  They are selling themselves to other gods, hoping for benefits and blessings from them, just like a prostitute sells her body to lovers for money.

Thankfully…idolatry like this is not a problem for Christians in the United States.  Western culture has avoided the travesty of bowing down to carved images, so I imagine it will be ok for us to simply skip over prophetic books like Hosea.  After all, it doesn’t really apply to us does it?  While we are at it…we can just skip over the first two of the ten commandments…you know…since we do not struggle with those.

Now one might object and say, “No.  We do struggle with idolatry, just in a different form.”  We’ve all heard sermons about how anything we place before God is an idol.  If you value your house, sports, relationships, etc. more than God, then that is idolatry.

While there is some truth to that type of thinking…at the end of the day, what is being described is not really idolatry.  Valuing possessions or people more than God is materialism and misplaced priorities, but it is not the kind of idolatry we see in the Bible.

golden-calfIdolatry, in the literal sense, is worshipping something in place of the one true God.  In other words…you pray to this thing, you offer sacrifices (of any type) to this thing, and you give all the honor and glory due God to this thing…THAT is idolatry!

So once again, we are left thinking that we do not struggle with this in our American context.  We are not like the people I saw in downtown Pune, lining up to offer our sacrifices to a statue.  That is foreign to us…but is it really?  Surely, we are not guilty of this kind of blatant idolatry…or are we?

I’m afraid that we are guiltier than we realize.

We may not form gods for ourselves out of wood and metal, but all too often we are guilty of making a mental god to meet our own religious desires.

We begin by gathering materials and, all too often, the Bible is the very block of wood we use to fashion our idols from.  We cut out what we don’t like and piece together what we do.  We take things we’ve been told by our parents or popular preachers, mix in a few randomly selected scriptures, and top it off with a bit of our own logic.  We begin to form our own idea of who God/Jesus is and what he must be like.

Some form a god and a Jesus that are only love.  This Jesus spends his days patting children on the head and helping old ladies across the street.

Some form a god and a Jesus that are only angry.  This Jesus is constantly flipping over tables and declaring, “Woe to you…”

Then there is the hippie Jesus…the liberal Jesus…the conservative Jesus…the middle class Jesus…

And the list goes on and on and on…

We are so guilty of forming and fashioning our own god.  Sadly, we usually end up fashioning a god who is just like us and cares about the things that we care about.  Then we pray to this god, we sing to this god, and we bow down to this god in hopes of getting what we want from this god.

We (myself included) quickly find ourselves standing in line with the Hindu worshippers I saw in India.  Each Sunday we head to a place of worship to offer praises/services/gifts to a god we have created in hopes of getting what we want.  Our gods are mental instead of metal, but they are just as false as any other idol.

What is the cure to this incredible infection of mental idolatry?  Because the good news is…there is a cure.

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Letter #10: Closer than a Brother

Dear Jonathan,

I laughed so hard at the story about your conversation with your concussed friend. Not that concussions are funny, but the conversation was hilarious!

Believe it or not, I had a similar experience with my friend, Jeremy, while in seminary. We played intramural basketball together and he would get injured every single game (at least it seemed like it).

I even had to drive him home one night after he got a concussion. Needless to say, he did not make much sense, especially when we tried to order food at Sonic and he couldn’t even remember or pronounce the words “coke” and “hamburger.”

I share that story with you to remind you of one very important thing that is often forgotten or overlooked by seminarians…

friendship2There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother.

You have the amazing opportunity to form amazing, life-long friendships while in seminary. I know I have mentioned this to you before, but I wanted to tell you a little more about why I believe this is so important.

Knowing that you are heading for pastoral ministry, finding fellow pastor-friends will be vital to your (and their) spiritual, mental, and emotional health. Pastoral ministry is very unique, and it can be difficult to find friends that can understand the particular challenges you face.

However, fellow pastors can often relate to the things you experience even when you cannot express it with words. They can point you to joy in Christ when no one else can. They can pierce your heart with truth that you need to hear. They can make you laugh in almost any situation.

Find friends in seminary that will be these kinds of friends for life…people with whom you not only study, but also laugh, cry, joke, talk, etc. If you find the friends similar to those I have been blessed with…you will have found people who are as close to you as blood.

Just the other day, I received a random text from Keith that lifted my heart to the Lord. Then there’s Bradley who stops for breakfast every time he passes through my town…these times of refreshment are priceless. And whenever my soul is hurting or rejoicing, I immediately call Allen. No one else has the ability to speak life into my heart quite like him.

I know it may sound like I am exaggerating the value of friendship, but I really don’t think that is the case. I would tell you to pursue incredible, godly, passionate friends just as hard as you pursue your studies.

The friends that I have listed were people I took note of during my first and second semesters and sought them out. I was determined to make them my friends because I saw in them a treasure, a richness and authenticity in their relationship with Christ to which I wanted to get closer.

Right after Scripture (and alongside my family), God has used these friends more than anyone or anything else to speak to my heart. Jonathan, pursue brothers and sisters in Christ who will lovingly live life with you, pointing you to Jesus.

Pursue friends that will stick closer than a brother.

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.

Letter#9: Being Critical Without Becoming Cynical

Dear Jonathan,

So another semester has begun! Are you getting used to the rhythm of seminary life yet? I’m glad that you are already enjoying your new set of classes and Profs.

In your last letter, I was particularly interested in what you had to say concerning the field of “text criticism” that you are beginning to explore. It is fascinating to study the process through which we have received the text of Scripture, but there are a few things you said that bothered me…some things that sounded slightly cynical.

cynicalI want you to know that it is possible to be critical without becoming cynical.

Seminary is a wonderful time to ask questions, engage your mind, and think deeply…in fact I hope seminary is not the only place for this, but the church as well. Yet, seminary does afford you a focused time for serious thought.

However, do not believe the lie that you have to check your faith at the door in order to engage with critical scholarship. Let’s take the field of “text criticism” as an example.

You told me that seeing the multi-layered process through which the text has been transmitted to us took some of the awe and wonder out of it all. Suddenly, the Bible did not seem like this beautiful book handed to us by God, but a very normal historical source that has been formed through a human editing process.

That is only one way of looking at the facts! Could we not also say that this long, tedious process of textual transmission puts God’s providence on display in a most remarkable way? Could we not say this affirms the truth that our God loves to communicate with us through very physical means!

Our God does not bifurcate the spiritual and physical, but is apparently bent on communicating spiritual realities through very physical things!

Is this not affirmed by baptism, communion, preaching, Bible reading, prayer, music…even the incarnation itself! God himself put on flesh and communicated with us through the gritty means of language and action.

Lev_septuagintThe fact that Scripture has been passed down from one generation to the next in a very nitty, gritty process affirms who our God is and how he works! Many other religions have holy books that have been seemingly dropped from the sky, but our God is the one who created all things and loves to work through those things.

Jonathan, think critically! Engage your studies in a manner that forces you to dig, evaluate, wrestle, and draw conclusions…but fight cynicism. The road of critical scholarship does not necessarily lead to the dead end of cynicism. No! If you end up in that cul-de-sac it is because you drove yourself there!

Many great, critical thinkers are some of the most faith-filled theologians! The harder they press into the study of the Word, the more they are filled with faith in the God of the Word!

Always remember, you do not stand over Scripture to master it! Through the Word, God is mastering you! Engage the Bible critically for the sake of seeing more of God, not more of man…and may the Spirit reveal to you the wonders of how he works spiritual wonders through very physical means.

You can be critical without becoming cynical!

Grace and Peace,

J

*To know/understand the premise behind these letters please click here.

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