The hidden deception of spiritual idolatry

rock concert_man on stageWhen think of idolatry, it’s not uncommon to think of those things that take us away from the Lord. And certainly, that is what idolatry does. Usually, when it’s addressed items assigned to idolatry include career, hobby, politics, sports, etc.

As a side note, I think we should be clear of what idolatry is and what it is not. I typically hear this explanation: it’s anything we worship more than God. But what does that mean exactly and how does that square with Scripture’s treatment of idolatry? If we look at both Old and New testaments, I don’t know that this vague description really covers it. Idols took the form of gods in which people placed their hope and trust for existence in life. And while we can become self-absorbed in careers or sports, loving a thing is not necessarily idolatrous in and of itself.

I appreciated this description in my Bible encyclopedia, which succinctly captures the heart of idolatry;

Idolatry was the embodiment of human desire and thought. Idols, though made of many shapes and sizes, really represented the image of man, for they expressed his thoughts, desires, and purposes.

Those wooden statues in ancient times meant something more than just the object but provided the allusion of safety and security for one’s life. It gave people a sense of satisfaction. Of course, we don’t have little wooden statues that we bow down to. But keeping in mind what idols were in the ancient world, the “thoughts, desires, and purposes” translate into what we place our confidence in. Therefore, the warning against idolatry needs to go beyond just something we love more than God. Continue reading

The ‘All Things’ You can do through Christ

man standing on rockPaul wrote to the Philippians

I rejoiced in the Lord greatly  that now at length you have revived your concern for me . You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, and abundance and need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:10-13)

I don’t know about you, but I have frequently heard that last line used in reference to some herculean task that needs to be done. Juggling too many balls in the air? Need to raise funds for that upcoming mission trip? Have to achieve a big project at work? Don’t worry, you can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

As nice as these sentiments sound, they unfortunately miss the context of what Paul is addressing. Note first, that he is saying this in reference to contentment in circumstances.  Another observation concerning the context of this passage is that Paul refers to tangible needs being met, specifically financial needs.  Reading further in vv 14-18, his specific reference relates to ministry support though certain there can be application to individuals as well. But there’s something else here I think gets often missed. Christ gives strength through whatever circumstances we find ourselves in, whether it is flourishing or in need.

I don’t think anyone would complain about prospering and otherwise times of abundance. But when you are in need is a different story.  While Paul refers specifically to financial circumstances in ministry, I think there is an application for the loss and/or deficiency of various needs. It could be that you are unemployed or underemployed and unsure how the financial gap will be met. Or maybe you have been knocked out of the career loop or been demoted. Or maybe you lost your house or other material blessings or taken a hit in same way in ministry.  Such losses can be devastating, especially when it impacts your reputation and can make you feel underachieving or unaccomplished. Continue reading

Eight Bible Interpretations That Make Me Scream

black-woman-screamingAs a follow up to this post on caricatures that drive me nuts, I thought I should highlight interpretations of passages that have that same effect.  Now these are not about differing opinions that can have some validity. Rather, its interpretations that I think really miss what is being communicated and another meaning is imposed that is foreign to what the original author intended. Typically, I find the reasons for this are 1) not considering what the word means in that cultural and/or literary context 2) not considering what the passage means in light of what the author is trying to communicate 3) not considering the genre of literature and 4) not correlating it with the whole of Scripture and how that relates to God’s redemptive plan accomplished in the Son.

So in no particular order…

1) John 10:3-4 – the small still voice:

Placing Jesus’ use of voice in consideration of what he is revealing about himself, the voice is not a speaking voice but the ability to respond to him in faith according to who he is. How do I know this? First, he says it is a figure of speech (vs. 6); Second, based on his explanation of the shepherd and the gate (vv 7-18), he is identifying the contrast between those who do not believe in him and those that do believe. Hearing his voice is a metaphor for believing.

2) Proverbs 29:18 – find your vision:

The word there is actually used for revelation, which refers to God’s self-disclosure not our discovery of something we think God wants us to do.  Revelation in that context meant the word of the Lord that related to his authority and and communication concerning himself and his intentions. To put it in a contemporary setting would mean that wherever there is no proclamation of the biblical message (word of the Lord)the people perish. Continue reading

A Closer Look: A Violent Shakedown (Matt. 11:12)

warriorsI have written in this series in a while. But there’s nothing like that one verse that keeps popping up with an interpretation that I don’t believe is faithful to the context that spurs a revival of sorts. It’s the kind of passage that can easily represent our own imposed meanings because there has not been careful study to determine what Jesus actually meant by what he said.

From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12)

Common interpretation: The people of God are to be forceful in kingdom pursuits. An extreme interpretation is that we are the ones who make the kingdom happen.

What’s going on: Keep in mind Jesus’ audience and their expectation for the Messiah, the one sent by God who would restore Israel to her glory days that rested in the promises made to David (2 Sam. 7). They had lost their land over to Gentile rulership and their kingship. The idea permeated this ancient audience that that restoration would be a grand political sweep that would knock out the existing regime.

Also keep in mind that the ministry of John the Baptist was an announcer of sorts of the Messiah so that people would believe in Him. Meaning, that people would come to trust that the promises of God are found through Christ. Here the audience are Jews but we know from the breadth of Scripture that this also refers to Gentiles who would be grafted in to the kingdom as equals. Continue reading

Reaping, Sowing and the Power of a Paragraph

“Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

I have heard this verse use countless times in this manner: watch what you do because it will come back to you. And the next verse seems to validate this idea, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please his Spirit, from that Spirit will reap eternal life”.

A one on one correspondence, right? That is the way I’ve understood this passage for a long time. But I’m going to suggest that this interpretation misses what Paul is saying in the complete paragraph, which has to do with supporting the work of church leaders, Here’s the whole paragraph;

Anyone who receives instruction in the word must share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. (Galatians 6:6-10) Continue reading