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idolatry

Christian Life, Discipleship, Faith, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

Wrong Stronghold

June 9, 2016

 

 

 

A few weekends ago the Threshingfloor Communities leaders spent a weekend together to learn, pray, and plan for the next several months of ministry. During our time at the cabin we all packed into near Park Rapids, MN we watched this sermon by Francis Chan. It led to some great discussion about our personal prayer lives, whether or not we are truly seeking God as our “one thing,” and what exactly we are looking to as our stronghold of safety, rest, and peace.

We live in a world where we are under constant attack. Rare is the day where a person can go from sunrise to sundown without some sort of difficulty, whether it be emotional, physical, mental, spiritual, or otherwise. We are fragile creatures, even the strongest of us. A harsh word can bring up pain from a decade ago and make it as real today as it was then. A small failure can, in a moment, unearth all our well-hidden insecurities.

We all need a place where we can take our armor off, lay down, and rest without fear. We need a stronghold. Even just the knowledge that we have such a stronghold is often enough to carry us through difficulty.

The Strongholds

It’s because of this need for a stronghold that we are constantly seeking and building for ourselves safe place after safe place. Having a rough week? The weekend can be your stronghold, with its (hopefully) less hectic schedule and freedom from work hours. Feeling lonely? The next romantic relationship will be your stronghold. Once you get it, you’ll have the safety and joy that will protect you from the pain of the world, right? Tired? Depressed? Sleep can be your stronghold, with its gentle oblivion to guard you from the weary difficulty of life.

The list can go on. Our ingenuity in stronghold construction knows no bounds. Food, music, movies, anger, traveling – you name it, we humans have at one point or another tested it as a stronghold to protect us from the difficulties of this world.

The problem with these strongholds is that, inevitably, they fail. More often than not when they fail they leave us worse off than we were before. The weekend goes by too fast and is too busy and Sunday night you watch the walls of your stronghold crumble around you, leaving you in the painful world of the weekday once again. The person you were pursuing that romantic relationship with? Yea, well, turns out she’s not interested (despite the signs to the contrary). The stronghold falls and you’re left wandering in loneliness again. And – of course – you weren’t able to fall asleep and spent the night tossing and turning without any real sleep.

The funny thing is that, for most of us, when our stronghold of choice fails us we don’t seem to get the message that it’s not working. Instead we retreat further inside and build the walls higher, bar the doors more strongly. If I didn’t get the weekend I needed this time, then next weekend will be really really resting. The next job will be fulfilling. Little do we know that each time we do this we’re building around ourselves not walls for protection, but walls that hold us captive.

Demolition Time

According to Paul, the Gospel comes in to demolish false strongholds. The good news of Jesus Christ is dynamite that blasts through the walls that we thought kept us safe but in reality keep us captive. In 2 Corinthians 10 he writes,

For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. -2 Cor 10:3-5

My friends, we don’t wage war like the world does. We don’t build the strongholds that they do. Jesus won’t let us, because he knows that those false strongholds are lies set up against the knowledge of God. Our Lord loves us too much to let entertainment, food, sex, relationships, or any other false stronghold keep his children from freedom, so he will gladly come and destroy the walls around us and leave us standing frightened and in the open until we turn to the only true stronghold.

The True Stronghold

The Lord is my light and my salvation—
whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life—
of whom shall I be afraid?
-Psalm 27:1

David knew well what it meant to need a place to hide. He literally had people attempting to kill him, something that most of us probably haven’t experienced. In the midst of that painful, fearful situation David needed a stronghold. Instead of turning to some earthly thing – hiding and feeling sorry for himself or taking up arms and doing battle against those who came after him – he declares “The Lord is the stronghold of my life.”

When we learn to build Christ around us as the stronghold of our lives, we can laugh and be fearless even when there’s chaos and war around us. We will say with David, “Though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.”

Rough week at work with lots of tension? Jesus is peace, patience, and hope. Feeling lonely? God is present with you, closer than any significant other, and he’s given you a family in Christ. Tired and depressed? The Lord gives rest to those whom he loves, and those who trust in him run and do not faint. Worried and anxious? Don’t worry about tomorrow, because your Father in heaven knows what you need and loves you.

The one true stronghold is found in Jesus; all others are failures and lies.

The question is, how do we get there? How do we get to the place where the Lord is indeed our stronghold? David gives us the key to entering the stronghold of the Lord in verses 4-6 of Psalm 27:

One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.

Then my head will be exalted
above the enemies who surround me;
at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;
I will sing and make music to the Lord.

When the one thing that we pursue is to be in God’s presence, then we are kept safe in God’s tent. Note that – the walls of God’s tent are stronger than the stones of the greatest fortress we could build. In the presence of the Lord there is safety. Make abiding in Him the center of your mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical reality and your “head will be exalted…” and you will “sacrifice with shouts of joy”. He is a stronghold that will not fail. Indeed, as Luther famously penned, “A mighty fortress is our God, a bulwark never failing.”

Christian, where is your stronghold today? What are you looking to for protection, comfort, and hope? Is it Christ or something of this world? Don’t lock yourself within the deadly confines of a worldly stronghold. It will make you a captive and a slave. Instead, look to Jesus and see that in him are the walls that shall never fail and the peace that surpasses all understanding.

 

 

 

Christian Life, Life, Spiritual Growth, Spiritual Warfare

On Looking In the Right Direction

November 9, 2015

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.”

– Isaiah 31

 

Don’t put your trust in the things of this world. They won’t last. I’ve written along these lines before, but it bears repeating. God clearly thinks so judging by how often he reminds his people throughout the Old Testament.

When you look to things other than the Lord for your protection, power, or freedom, it’s not going to go well.

In Isaiah 31 God is addressing Israel and warning them against looking to Egypt for help and protection from Assyria, Babylon, and other threatening nations. Egypt had a large army – a multitude of chariots and hordes of strong horsemen, but God declares woe on those who look to Egypt for help.

Israel was being tempted to return to their old captor in order to feel safe, abandoning the God who had set them free from Egypt and slavery in the first place.

What multitude are you putting your trust in today? When life troubles come along are you expecting your array of preparations or piles of saved dollars to protect you?

What strength are you looking to? Are you trusting in the strength of your willpower or the strength of the economy or the strength of your relationships?

Want to see the power of God at work? Give up the chariots and horsemen and the thousand little things you think make you secure. Look instead to God’s multitude of grace found in Jesus. Look instead to the strength of God’s power demonstrated in Jesus. Embrace the conflict and trust that God is more than able to help you, even when an entire nation is opposing you.

Woe to those who look to Egypt for help, but those who look to the Lord can say with the Psalmist, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23).

 

 

 

Christian Life, Commentary, Culture

Walking in the Name

August 20, 2013

 

 

 

For all the peoples walk

each in the name of its god,

but we will walk in the name of the Lord our God

forever and ever.

– Micah 4:5, ESV

 

Though the prophet Micah spoke the Spirit-inspired words, “all the peoples walk, each in the name of its god” thousands of years ago they still hold true today. Modern men and women may not align themselves with Baal or Molech or Asherah, but the people of the world walk in the name of what they worship. We label ourselves, proclaim our allegiance, invest our finances and time, and align our interests with what we worship. We adopt the language of our gods, wear the apparel with their images, and frequent websites to learn about them.

Some walk in the name of money, worshiping at the altar of the workplace and the market, confident that their financial solidity will satisfy and protect them.

Some walk in the name of sports, wearing the apparel of the team they have aligned themselves with and spending dollars and hours to take part in the festivals and games.

Some walk in the name of romance, flying from one relationship to the next and spending the hours between dreaming of how they will one day find the person who will fulfill their deepest desires.

Some walk in the name of entertainment, becoming movie connoisseurs, reading reviews, and debating the finer points of film-making, filling their evenings with television and theater-going.

The list could go on for pages. “All the peoples walk, each in the name of its god” is as true in our day as it was in Micah’s. The question is, Christian, are you walking in the name of the gods of the nations or are you walking in the name Yahweh, the Lord our God? Whose name do people see on you when they interact with you? Whose name is on your lips when you speak? Is it clear that you walk in a different name than the people who love this world?

Christ caused his people to be born again by water and Spirit. We are new creations. We are a new nation and a new people. Walking in the name of the gods of the world is no longer an option for us. We use money, yes, but we don’t look to it for answers. We watch and play sports, yes, but we don’t give teams our allegiance. We desire romance and companionship from the opposite sex, yes, but our dreams are about the glories of Christ and the proclamation of his kingdom. We see movies, yes, but entertainment does not dominate our time because we have been created to work and redeem the time.

My prayer for you this day, my friends, is that you would “walk in the name of the Lord our God forever and ever,” forsaking the things of this world and counting them all as loss for the sake of Christ. His name alone is worthy of our worship.

 

 

 

 

 

Poetry

String (Falling)

May 8, 2011

I had strings of seven thousand colors
all wound about my mind;
each spun from a single spool
beginning somewhere within my heart,
running up behind my eyes
to where life resides
and spinning out into the rest of world
to wrap ‘round all my delights.

Each thought, a desire in color;
each color an angle of light
that held me aloft above a smoking pit
that sought to be my life.

And my desires; those seven thousand strings
all pulled me up and out
till I was certain that I’d discovered
what I could never live without

then, one by one, those brilliant little strands
snapped beneath the weight
of the idols I had made of them
and what I desired became the stone
dragging me down into the smoke
of all the forests I’d burned.

I was certain I would die, there in dark and dusk
in the cold, beneath my computer desk
till you came with one fiery, white-hot rope
to wrap ’round my broken heart
and bind the pieces up.

Then you drew me, like a string draws a balloon
out from under the smoking earth
and up with the sun
where now I dangle, a thousand feet aloft
hanging, my hand in yours
flying like a soul finally awake,
having tasted all the stars
and been rescued from their shame.

Culture

Electric Idols

November 30, 2010

More often than not the most common things in our lives become our easiest idols. Take, for instance, the technology which we so greatly depend on. From computers to cell phones to Ipods to television, all of it has a terribly tendency to creep its way onto the throne of our lives, convincing us that we are dependent upon it for our lives. It commends itself to us as necessary for existence, and we fall for the ploy. The apostle Paul writes in Romans 6 saying, “Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey”?

Oh how different Paul’s perspective is than ours! Our view of slavery is one of being forced into unwilling captivity and beaten into doing that which the master demands, but this is far from the imagery Romans 6 lays out. In the apostle’s mind there is an inherent willingness (though perhaps not happiness) in the phrase at the time it was written. A bondservant, the literal meaning of the word here translated as slave, was a vastly different thing in Paul’s time than our modern conception of slavery. Bondservants were the attendants of their master, promised payment or given food and a place to live for their services.

Paul’s logic is not, “I’m a slave to this master, therefore I obey him,” it is, “I obey this master, therefore I am his slave.”We need to hammer this into our head so that we can honestly evaluate what we are enslaved to. Idols offer us a payment in return for our service to them, never delivering what they promise and dragging us more and more into bondage.  Do you have something that you simply have to obey? An item you need in order to function? A piece of technology that you wouldn’t be able to go more than a few hours without?

For many, cell phones and Ipods fall under that category. If what Romans 6 says is true, then until about a year ago I was certainly enslaved that small music device that I carried with me day and in and day out that had me convinced that an hour long car ride without music was a thing utterly unbearable. It was an idol that assured me that if I did as it demanded it would provide me with satisfaction. Oh how far that was from the truth! God (as he often does) knocked that idol from its impostor’s throne by having my new 80gb Ipod stolen from me just four days after I had purchased it. But, slow to learn as I was, I purchased a new one a few months later and spent the next year or so obeying a slave master other than Christ.

It is a terrible thing to be bound to any other than God alone. To have a master other than Christ is to walk in sin. There is no middle ground left for us, for we are, “slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness”. (Romans 6:16) We must choose between Christ or sin. Not Christ and technology, not Christ and romance, not Christ and money. There is no Christ and. We can only have one god in our lives.

Examine yourselves, especially you young men and women who have become inoculated enough to technology to see it as a normal part of life. Test yourself and see if you are truly free from bondage by giving up the cell phone, the Ipod, the computer, the Xbox, or the television for a few days. If you are able to toss it aside and let it lie with no trouble, rejoice for the freedom you have. If, as is more likely the case, you feel that object tugging at your heart and reminding you just how hard life is without it, you have found in yourself an Idol that will be a cruel master to you if it is not dethroned. Jesus himself said that we would be unable to love both God and money. How much more will we be unable to serve God if technology holds us captive?

Fight the good fight, and come to the cross where none but Christ is left standing.

– Benjamin Pontius