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

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Be careful with ministries (and ministers) that speak your heart

crowd_cheeringWell, once again the internet from evangelical quarters have been ablaze the past few days over Jen Hatmaker’s soft, squishy statement apparently affirming gay marriage. I’ll say from the outset, this post is not to address what she said or didn’t say; there have been plenty of others doing that. Rather, I want to leverage this situation to address a larger concern regarding the appeal of Hatmaker and other women ministry leaders.

I hear a lot of trope against women’s ministries being absent real thought, gravitate towards feelings and generally don’t want to dig deep into theological study. I suppose that is probably true in many cases and these are observations I’ve voiced myself. But I don’t think it’s enough to simply castigate the disciples as those who lack discernment and don’t want rigorous study. There is a reason that Hatmaker and other ministry leaders like Beth Moore, Priscilla Shirer, and Rachel Held Evans gain such an audience with women. They speak in a way that resonates with many. Whether it’s criticizing the old fundamentalist regime whilst demonstrating how awful they distorted “biblical womanhood” or emoting about past experiences that challenged healthy womanhood or evoking a giggle while recounting the challenges of parenting, it occurs to me that they touch the feminine soul.

And let’s not forget about Sarah Young and Jesus tapping into our hearts through flowery words via the direct messages from Jesus as if God was a 40 year old housewife. I addressed this in my master’s thesis how God speech equates to God’s revelation of himself and character, which he fully expressed in the Son.  But it’s not lost on me that there is a reason that Jesus Calling has sold millions of copies even though Young sets an horrendous precedent for how God speaks, supposing that the messages she has received equate to Jesus speaking (like, how do we know?). Continue reading

On being called into ministry

This is a slightly edited version of a post I did for Parchment and Pen in 2011. These are some thoughts I spent some years in working out on the question of what it means to be be called into ministry. 

pupit w bibleOne of the essays in my application to Dallas Theological Seminary required that I respond to the question of how I knew I was called into ministry.  While I understood that question to be more related to affirming events that led me to apply to seminary, I find that the idea of being called into ministry has not only been a popular catch phrase but also bears some examination.  I say this because I believe the call to ministry has been designated as a special call to select individuals based on God’s selection for specific ministry roles.  I do believe that has some merit as I indicate below, but I think it might be different than what is commonly thought of as a call.

First, I think the ‘call to ministry’ as designated for select individuals is misleading.  All Christians are called into ministry because all Christians have spiritual gifts that are to be employed for service to the body of Christ (1 Peter 4:10).  That doesn’t require some specified direction but a working out of those gifts as we grow in our Christian walk and seek to serve the body.  1 Corinthians 12:12-24 identifies that everyone has a part to play in the growth of the body (also supported Ephesians 4:16).  I don’t dismiss the fact that God may have specific roles or even specialized ministries that he directs us to (after all the local assembly does require pastors, elders and deacons), but it is more indicative of our progress in the faith and a capacity bear larger burdens for service.

Second, the New Testament witness to the concept of calling is predominantly related to the salvific call of election. God calls individuals into the body of Christ. It is within the service to the body that one works out there inclination. And there is much to be said for passion and desire.  I heard a popular preacher say once that if you want to know what you should be doing pay attention to what drives you and what bothers you when its off.  I don’t believe that should be equated with a critical, fault finding mission, but an inclination of things that God has placed within us.  This is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight. But in time, we will find ourselves inclined and passionate in certain areas of ministry that we will gravitate towards. This actually factored in quite a bit in my essay. Continue reading

We Really Do Need the Same Old Thing

I don’t mean that in a pejorative sense. But it does seem to me as I observe the evangelical landscape today, that what is tried and trust and true gets overlooked for the ‘new’. So many in the church today are captivated by newness – new trends, new ideas, new innovations, new buildings, new predictions, new words from God, new movements, etc that the old seems irrelevant. But really its the old that we need – what God did through his Son, how the church has been established, what God has already spoken. This is how we are refreshed, by gathering according to what has already been established, by remembering what God has already said and what he has already done to gather a body of people to himself through the work of the Son by the empowerment of the Holy Spirit. But somehow that gets too boring and we get antsy for something new. Why?

It reminds me of this portion of the Screwtape Letter #25. If you are not familiar with the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis, they are instructions to Wormwood on how to frustrate God’s people and get the church off track:

But the greatest triumph of all is to elevate this horror of the same old thing into a philosophy so that nonsense in the intellect my reinforce corruption in the will…The Enemy loves platitudes. Of a proposed course of action He wants men, so far as I can see, to ask very simple questions; is it righteous? Is it prudent? Is it possible? Now if we can keep men asking ‘Is it in accordance with the general movement of our time? Is it progressive and reactionary? Is this the way that History is going?’ they will neglect the relevant questions. And the questions they do ask are, of course, unanswerable; for they do not know the future, and what the future will be depends very largely on just those choices which they now invoke the future to help them to make. As a result, while their minds are buzzing in this vacuum, we have the better chance to slip in and bend them to the action we have decided on. And great work has already been done. Once they knew that some changes were for the better, and others for the worse, and again others again indifferent. We have largely removed this knowledge. For the descriptive adjective ‘unchanged’ we have substituted the emotional adjective ‘stagnant’. We have trained them to think of the Future as a promised land which favoured heroes attain – not as something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is.

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Because We are So Gifted

Proud manEach time I read through 1 Corinthians, I can’t help but draw a parallel between the issues in the Corinthian church and the contemporary church. The culture may have been different, but the self-focused attitudes and actions are not. One theme that emerges pretty quickly in the book is that of pride and superiority. The Corinthians are puffed up by their own accomplishments, which they are measuring against the standards of the Roman-greco society and not the wisdom of the kingdom. Jesus introduced an upside paradigm that flies in the face of what society said was successful. This is true as much today and in the early church.  And because of this, they’re even turning their nose down at Paul because he’s not measuring up to their standard.

After giving the Corinthians the smack down in 1 Corinthians 3 about how their divisiveness and self-importance are disrupting the foundation that he has built on Christ, in chapter 4 he gets to the heart of it.

I have applied all these things to myself and to Apollos for your benefit, brothers, that you may learn not to go beyond what is written, that none of you may be puffed up in favor of one against the other. For who sees anything different in you? What do you have that you did not receive? If you then received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we are in disrepute. To the present hour, we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we retreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things. (1 Corinthians 4:6-13)

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