...a weekly devotional

Monday, May 20, 2013

Idol Christianity

"Hear, O Israel, the LORD your God, the LORD is One."
- Deuteronomy 6:4
"You shall not make for yourselves idols, nor shall you set up for yourselves and image or a sacred pillar, nor shall you place a figured stone in your land to bow down to it; for I am the LORD your God."
- Leviticus 26:1
"Is is not I, Yahweh? And there is no other God besides Me, a righteous God and a Savior; there is none except Me."
-Isaiah 45:21

The other day, while visiting my sister in Tennessee, I drove past a church marquee that read, "Jesus is my BFF, who is yours?" At this my brother-in-law remarked that he often hears a neighbor refer to God as "the Man in Charge" or "the Big Man Upstairs" but none of these names are how God refers to Himself in Scripture. He does call Himself our friend (John 15:14) but that is directly followed by a call to obedience. He holds our hand (Psalm 37:24), but He is also called our Master (lit. "Lord").1 He is our Shepherd (Psalm 23), but also our King (Psalm 47:7). He is our Father (James 1:17), but also The Most High God (El Elyon).2

There are many names for God in Scripture and His names signify His attributes and character. J. H. Keathley notes:
In our twentieth century Western culture, personal names are little more than labels to distinguish one person from another. Sometimes nicknames are chosen which tell something about a person, but even this is a poor reflection of the significance of names in the Bible. Unfortunately, to many the names God or Lord convey little more than designations of a supreme being. It says little to them about God’s character, His ways, and what God means to each of us as human beings. But in Scripture, the names of God are like miniature portraits and promises. In Scripture, a person’s name identified them and stood for something specific. This is especially true of God. Naming carried special significance. It was a sign of authority and power. This is evident in the fact that God revealed His names to His people rather than allowing them to choose their names for Him.3
So often we pick and choose the names of God that are most comforting and rewarding to us at any given time. God is our Comforter when we are hurting, but certainly not our Convictor in those moments. He is loving, forgiving, and a friend of sinners during the times we cannot shake a sin habit, but it is suddenly easier to downplay God as Holy and Righteous. He is Almighty and Sovereign during the times that we feel lost, but what about the times that we feel self-sufficient? 

Not long after God gave Israel the first of ten major commandments, "I am the LORD your God...and you shall have no other gods before Me, you shall not make for yourself an idol"...(Exodus 20:2-4), the nation was begging Aaron to construct and idol for them. It was not so much that they were rejecting Yahweh as their God, but trying to make him tangible and containable and something that fit more in line with the kind of God they wanted. 
"He [Aaron] took what they handed him and made it into an idol cast in the shape of a calf, fashioned it with a tool. Then they said, 'this is your god, Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.' When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, 'Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD [lit. Yahweh].' So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry." - Exodus 32:4-6
So often idolatry in the Old Testament was not rejecting God but adding other gods into the mix. Baal was sometimes considered to be Yahweh's brother and Asherah (often represented by a sacred pillar) was believed to be God's wife. Most often the people of Israel still viewed Yahweh as one of the various universal gods, but the worship of Baal and Asherah allowed Israel to indulge in corrupt sexual practices and aligned them with the surrounding nations. As they worshipped other gods they could pick and choose the type of god and connecting attribute that was most needed and convenient. 

When we worship certain attributes and Names of God to the exclusion of others it is a form of idolatry. God is revealed as Father, Master, Shepherd, Lamb, Savior, Judge, Loving, Jealous, Warrior, Peace, and the list goes on and on. He is all of these things completely and it is not for us to stack one attribute as more favorable than another. We must maintain a relationship that is balanced between intimacy and reverence, rest and obedience. Avoid the idolatrous temptation to reduce, contain, or add to God.

Kurios: Greek word translated “Lord.” Stresses authority and supremacy. It can mean sir (John 4:11), owner (Luke 19:33), master (Col. 3:22), and it is used mostly as the equivalent of Yahweh of the Old Testament. It too is used of Jesus Christ meaning (1) Rabbi or Sir (Matt. 8:6); (2) God or Deity (John 20:28Acts 2:36Rom. 10:9Phil. 2:11).
El Elyon: “The Most High God.” Stresses God’s strength, sovereignty, and supremacy (Gen. 14:19Ps. 9:2;Dan. 7:18, 22, 25).
4 Image taken from richfaithrising.blogspot.com

Friday, May 3, 2013

Some Lessons from the Season

It has been a while since I have written anything, mostly because I do not feel that I have much to offer.  I'm sure you have been in a similar place at one time or another- you try to stay distracted by the mundane of each day otherwise you would burst into tears. The last few days have been a battle of coersion just to get myself out of bed. 

But I wanted to share a handful of things God has been teaching me:

1. The value of time.

It is only when time is working against us that we recognize its value. I never realized the preciousness of an hour until it was the last one Jon and I had together before saying goodbye. Or the costliness of one minute until I stepped away from my phone only to see that I just missed his call for that day. 

We often speak of time in terms of financial language- we "spend time," "save time," waste time." That is why the words "Redeem the time" echo so loudly in Scripture. Redeem has the idea of buying back and attributing value. One friend remarked that the opposite of redeeming time is being a slave to time. Time is a precious commodity, perhaps the most precious. Value it, redeem it, use it wisely.

"Be very careful, then, how you live--not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity ("redeeming the time") because the days are evil." - Ephesians 5:15-16

2. The power of words. 

It is only when someone says something carelessly that happens to affect us deeply that we realize the power of words. After I shared that Jon was deployed a person remarked, "that is hard on our soldiers, they come back really messed up; it's no wonder that the suicide and divorce rate is so high in the military." I soon excused myself and found a secluded place to start bawling. 

But I have been just as guilty of flippant words. I can think of numerous occasions where I have said something thoughtlessly or in humor, only the see the other individual's countenance starts to fall. It makes me think of conversation in which many young mothers were grousing and complaining about sleepless nights and poopy diapers, not realizing that one of the women in their midst struggled with infertility and would trade a thousand sleepless nights for the chance to hold her newborn baby. 

That is why the Bible takes our speech so seriously. It speaks of our words as a raging fire (James 3:5-6) or a piercing sword (Psalm 55:21). We are so quick to speak without considering the impact of our words. 

"The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing." - Proverbs 12:18

3. The danger of comparison. 

People have commented that they are so jealous that I get to do some traveling or have extra free time, but I am thinking to myself, "this is not what I want to be doing right now, I just want to be with my husband." But then I look at others and long for their situation without considering the hardships and trials they are facing. I grumble to myself that this is the worst way to spend the first year of marriage, only to be reminded of my brother and his wife who spent numerous months of their first year of marriage in the hospital while she battled a severe brain condition on the brink of death. 

God has written each of our stories differently because He has designed us uniquely. He knows what we need and what we cannot handle. I am reminded of "The Horse and His Boy" by C.S. Lewis, when Aslan is revealing to Shasta that He was the Lion with them along their journey. Shasta protests "then it was you who wounded Aravis?" To which Aslan responds, "Child, I am telling you your story, not hers. I tell no one any story but their own."

No good comes from the comparison of ourselves or our circumstances because we either measure favorably and become prideful, or we feel inferior and become discontent. 

"Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in Your book before one of them came to be. How precious to me are Your thoughts, God! How vast the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of the sand--when I awake, I am still with You." - Psalm 139:16-18

4. The purposes of God.

When I first found out about the deployment I started to become very bitter towards the military. I hated that they were taking him away from me. I felt that they did not care about him, he was just one of their assets. They definitely did not care about me as his wife, and they had stopped caring about this war long ago. It was no longer politically beneficial or conducive to campaigning to talk about the war. So Jon was going to put his life on the line for no reason and without anyone caring. These roots of bitterness were taking hold deeper and deeper until God slammed me with the realization that He needed Jon to be there and He needed me to be here. It was the only way God could accomplish what He wanted in and through each of us. Who knows what decision or action Jon would make that could save the life of another soldier. Or the example Jon could be that would be a testimony to others around him and help further the Gospel. 

In the story of Job, God addresses Job in chapters 38 through 41. He asks Job question after question about things of creation and mysteries of this world. When I first read through these chapters I felt they were harsh and uncaring, until I put them into context. All of the things God speaks of are beyond our control or comprehension. The heart of what he is saying is, "I need you to trust Me because you do not understand." 

To which Job responds, "I know that You can do all things; no purpose of Yours can be thwarted. You asked, 'Who is this that obscures My plans without knowledge?' Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things to wonderful for me to know." - Job 42: 2-3

So I conclude with the verse that God brought my way the other morning:

"Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer." - Romans 12:12

1. Image taken from visionaryvanguard.wordpress.com