How deep is your Christianity? Is it just a Christian veneer or is it who you are? How do you respond to God’s dealings with you? Do you pray and read your Bible only when the heat is on and stop once the pressure is off? Have you added a little “Christianity” to your life without truly making Jesus Lord?
In chapter 17 we see what John MacArthur calls “divine patience” come to an end concerning the Northern Kingdom. Their continued idolatry and disobedience to God’s commands brought the judgment of captivity.
God has not changed (Heb. 13.8). While He is patient and merciful with us, His patience will not on go forever. As a nation and as individuals, if we continue in disobedience to the clear commands of Scripture, if we practice idolatry or if we worship God half-heartedly, we will eventually suffer the consequences of our choices, as well.
What is Idolatry?
Someone asked me, what is “idolatry”? We usually think of bowing down to some statue or image, but that is not the only form of idolatry. Ezekiel 14.1-8 talks about idolatry of the heart. Anytime we put other things, other people, or other relationships above loving, serving, and pleasing God, we have placed that person or that thing on the throne of our hearts in place of God.
Nothing breaks a parent’s heart more than to see our children make foolish choices which can result in consequences for years to come. But there are some things we can do early on so God doesn’t have to allow more serious consequences later.
Verse 25, “A foolish son is a grief to his father, and bitterness to her who bore him.”
Nothing breaks a parent’s heart more than to see our children make foolish choices which can result in consequences for years to come. Nothing we do can guarantee that our children will not make those choices, but our responsibility is to faithfully teach them while they are young. At times, that includes allowing them to suffer the consequences of their actions instead of constantly intervening.
The child who repeatedly forgets her lunch, may need to miss lunch a few times.
The child who gets in trouble with a teacher needs to know that Mom and Dad will not run to his rescue.
The teen who gets caught drinking and driving may need to spend a night in jail, instead of being immediately bailed out.
The son or daughter who brings drugs into the house needs to know that his or her parents will call the police and have them arrested!
By allowing those less serious consequences, we may save our children from progressively more serious ones. But as they get older, if God needs to allow more serious ones, we need to be careful not to get in God’s way. The Prodigal Son’s father, a type of our Heavenly Father, did not run after his son, he didn’t bail him out of the mess he was in or try to find him a job. He patiently waited. It was in the pig sty that his son, finally, came to his senses (Lk. 15.11-32).
God loves our children more than we do. He knows what each of them (and each of us) needs to come to the end of ourselves. He knows our hearts and He disciplines us when it’s appropriate and for our good (Heb. 12.5-11).
In the course of counseling, I’ve seen too many instances where parents had protected their children over and over from the natural results of their sin and rebellion, only to have God take matters out of their hands, by allowing something that the parents could not fix. Continue reading →
As we see God’s swift and strong judgment on sin in the Old Testament, we need to remember a couple of things. First, He was protecting the people and the bloodline through which He was going to bring forth the Messiah.
But second, though God is patient and merciful with us in our sin and idolatry, it doesn’t mean He’s changed His mind about sin! It’s only the blood of Christ that keeps us from a similar fate and it was the mercy and love of God that made provision for our salvation. And how great a salvation it is!
We tend to write off the idea that we, too, are idolaters. We may or may not bow down to carved images, but we are frequently guilty of having other things on the throne of our hearts besides God Himself. Things like: I must have a spouse to be happy; I must have a godly husband; I must have a wife who respects me, I must have obedient children; or some other, “I must ..” Even good things can become idols if they are the focal point of our lives in the place of God.
Ask yourself, “Is there something or someone I think I cannot be happy without?”
Our idols can become so important that they blind us (Ezek. 14.1-8). In our blindness we can begin to justify sin or even refuse to see that it exists. We murmur and complain like the children of Israel in the wilderness. We compromise our moral standards, resort to sinful anger, or give in to fear.
When we do, it is sin—pure and simple. No amount of sugar coating will change it, but the answer is just as simple Continue reading →
Sheep and goats: our churches are full of both. On the outside they often look the same, but one day, the “Heart-Knower” will separate the two. The sheep to everlasting glory. The goats to everlasting punishment.
We will all live forever—somewhere! Do you know for certain where you will spend eternity? And what about other people you know? Are there some who profess to be Christians, yet whose lives haven’t changed?
32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels:
Sheep and goats: our churches are full of both. On the outside they often look the same, but Jesus said they’re not.
21 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’
Notice in verse 22, “Many will say …” Yet, these people were doing “Christian” things. They were sitting in our pews, part of our small groups, serving in ministry … but Jesus will say, “I never knew you …”
How is it possible that people can sit in churches week after week, attend Bible studies, even serve in ministry and not know God? How would we know if that’s us? And, if we want to truly love and serve others, are there red flags that we should look for in their lives?
Lest you think, I’m talking about becoming overly focused on what others are doing or doing it in a harsh or unloving way, please hear me out. But, too often, we’ve been taught that we are never to judge others based on Matthew 7.1. Certainly, we have to be careful. We can’t know anyone else’s heart. We barely know our own (Jer. 17.9).
But in Luke 6 Jesus also said:
43 “For a good tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit.44 For every tree is known by its own fruit. For men do not gather figs from thorns, nor do they gather grapes from a bramble bush.45 A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.
You can’t read the gospels and Jesus’ interactions with the Scribes and Pharisees without realizing this “good fruit” isn’t so much outward or religious acts in themselves. The good fruit talked about here must come from a changed heart.
A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things (Matt. 12.35).
A person with a changed heart will sometimes fall short. As Christians we sin, sometimes in grievous ways. But, as genuine believers, we should be convicted when confronted with the truth about sin (1 Jn. 3.9-10). As new creations in Christ, we should have a desire for God’s Word and to live in ways that are pleasing to Him (2 Cor. 5.9). And there will be fruit, in varying degrees, but a changed heart produces changed desires and a changed life.
So, we have a dilemma. First, is it even loving to look at the fruit in someone else’s life? Some would say, “no.” And, if we can’t know someone else’s heart, what would we judge when looking for “good fruit”?
God will not play spiritual pat-a-cake with us by allowing us to seek His help while we continue turning to our idols and self-efforts. If God doesn’t seem to be answering our prayers, maybe we need to ask ourselves, “Am I playing spiritual games with God?”
As you’re reading the book of Ezekiel, it might help to remember that this book does not follow Jeremiah chronologically. Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah, although Jeremiah was about 20 years older and began his prophetic ministry over 30 years earlier. Their prophecies about the fall of Jerusalem and the various deportations cover the same events, but while Jeremiah was prophesying to the people in Jerusalem and later in Egypt where he was forced to go late in his ministry, Ezekiel was prophesying in Babylon to those who had been taken captive.
In chapter 20, some of the elders of Israel living in captivity came to Ezekiel and asked him to seek the Lord on their behalf. But it’s obvious from God’s response that, despite coming to the prophet, they continued with their idolatry.
Sometimes we forget that the events of the Old Testament are historically true. These were real people and real events.
And if we’re honest, at the heart level, they were not that much different from us. How many times have we prayed and asked God for help and wisdom while we continue to try to work things out in our own strength and in our own way? How often have we turned to our idols for help (something sweet to comfort ourselves, a drink to help us relax, buying something to lift our spirits …) or manipulation (getting angry, pouting, crying, withholding affection …) in order to control someone or something? Continue reading →
Verse 1 says, “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go into the house of the LORD.’” As Christians there should be a joy associated with going to church and worshiping with other believers. If we dread going to church and find any excuse to stay home, we need to check our hearts. Someone once said, “If you don’t want to spend time with believers here on earth, there is little chance you will be with them for eternity.”
While going to church doesn’t save us and He doesn’t love us less if we miss a service, it is part of living an obedient life before Him. And yet, we can be deceived into believing going to church doesn’t really matter, or forgiving someone who has hurt us deeply doesn’t really matter, or gossiping, or that we can maintain some secret sin and still be right with God.
Just like the Israelites in Jeremiah’s and Ezekiel’s day, we can have these areas of our lives that are not submitted to God and not only feel “OK” about it, but be downright self-righteous and judgmental about others and their blindspots.
How does that happen?
Mike Wilkerson in his book Redemption, talks about something he calls “Religious Addiction.”
Definitions of addiction include words like habit, obsession, and dependence. It denotes a compulsive need or dependence on something. It usually involves a certain lifestyle, hanging out with other people who do the same, and talking the way they talk. It usually offers an escape from reality. Continue reading →
Could you be guilty of parental legalism? Parental legalists often focus on behavior as opposed to the heart. If we make Christianity all about “the law,” we may fail to help our children understand their need for genuine heart change and a personal relationship with Christ.
Also read about:
How and how not to communicate with a person who is acting like a fool.
And the foolishness of idolatry, even the kind you may be practicing.
I’ve been talking about legalism for several days now. Remember the Judaizers or legalists had come in trying to impose their brand of religion on the Galatians. As human beings we love having a set of rules to follow instead of allowing God to make a change in our hearts or the hearts of others.
Lou Priolo in his book The Heart of Anger talks about how we do this with our children. We make our rules (be in bed at 8.30; you can’t watch that TV show; no dating until you are 16; don’t talk with food in your mouth) on the same par with God’s commands (love God with all your heart; love your neighbor as yourself; do not lie; do not steal, etc.).
It’s not that children shouldn’t obey the rules their parents lay down for them (one of God’s commands is “children obey your parents in the Lord …” Eph. 6.1-3), but we must help our children understand that those are temporary rules for the household and not God’s law. Otherwise we run the risk of either making little Pharisees of our children or causing them to view Christianity as a legalistic religion instead of a relationship with Christ. Without that personal relationship with God, many of our kids will turn away from the things of God once they’re out of our homes.
Instead we need to lovingly teach our children to obey us as God’s temporary authority in their lives, while teaching them the truths and freedoms and principles of a genuine relationship with God and helping them see their need for the Savior. He is the only One who can ultimately change their hearts.
Verse 21, “… if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law.”
I touched on this a couple of days ago when I talked about how we are all legalists at heart. We are so prone to believe that if we are somehow just good enough, we can be right with God. So often when you ask people why they think they will go to heaven, they will say “because I’m a pretty good person. I’m not perfect, but I haven’t murdered anyone.”
But Romans tells us, “there is none righteous, no not one” (Rom.3.10). We cannot be right with God on our own. As Jesus told us in John 3, we must be born again by the Spirit of God. We must accept Christ’s sacrifice and payment for our sin.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Eph. 2.8-9).
Just as we are saved by grace through faith in the Son and what He did for us, so we are kept by the power of God, not by any works which we do. Ephesians 2.10 tells us that the fruit of a changed life will produce good works, but they cannot make us righteous. Good works flow from our righteousness in Him and our love for Him, but they cannot produce it.
Chapter 41 was written to warn those in Israel, who persisted in idolatry, but also to encourage and comfort those who remained faithful to the One True God. Chapter 42 contains many prophesies about the Messiah. Jesus quoted from this chapter in Matthew 12 speaking about Himself (Matt. 12.17-21). Continue reading →
The Bible has a great deal to say about wisdom and its flip side, foolishness. In this series we’re looking at what it means to be wise and, by comparison, what it means to be foolish and how to recognize the difference.
Are you a wise woman or a foolish one? Part 3
Money & Stuff
As I said in the first post (read it here), while I’m specifically addressing this to us as women, these truths are for everyone: young and old, men, women, and children.
Our foundational Scripture is Proverbs 14.1 which says:
The wise woman builds her house,
But the foolish pulls it down with her hands.
Our working definition of wisdom is, “wisdom is the right application of truth.” It’s not only knowing the truth, but applying it to the everyday situations of our lives!
Money & Stuff
In the last post I talked about the tongue and the ears. God has a great deal to say about the words we speak and how well we listen.
In this post we’ll take a look at what God says about about our attitudes toward money and possessions.
If you mention money in a Christian context, often, one of two thoughts will come to mind.
Money is the root of all evil and those who have it are somehow unspiritual. Or …
God is just waiting to make me rich. He wants me to have the desires of my heart.
In reality, both are distortions of what God has to say about money. And He has a LOT to say about money.
Not the Root of All Evil
The Bible doesn’t say that money is the root of all evil. 1 Timothy 6.10 actually says:
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.
Sin is the root of all evil (Matt. 15.19; Rom. 5.12; Jas. 1.15) and the love of money is sin. Sinful attitudes toward money will get us into all kinds of trouble.
Money itself is neither good or evil, but it can be used for both. It can be used to help us care for our families as God instructed us to do (1 Tim. 5.8), it can allow us to help others (Prov. 22.9, 28.27), and can be used to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ (Phil. 4.15-17). But it can also be used for all kinds of evil.
Money can be something we control or something that controls us. We control it by using it wisely and allowing God to bless others through us. Or we can demand it, hoard it, and be miserable when we don’t have it. You don’t have to have money to be controlled by it.
The love of money causes some to pervert justice in the civil realm (Prov. 17.23) and use unfair business practices in the marketplace (Prov. 11.1, 13.11). It has led people to lie, cheat, steal, extort, even gamble away everything they have. Continue reading →
I never thought of myself as a people-pleaser. I had confronted hundreds of counselees about the sin in their lives. I’d done the same for many of my friends (some of whom turned into enemies). I faced ridicule and censure from other “Christian counselors” and from some of my colleagues for the position I held on the sufficiency of Scripture. I even stood up to people in positions of authority who I believed were in error. Once, my opposing position contributed to costing me a job. Surely I didn’t have a problem with the love of approval.
But I did! As I was confronted with the material you will encounter in this book (initially as a result of preparing a series of sermons on the subject), I had to confess that I was not as free from the love of approval as I’d thought.
Personally, I spent much of my early life as an “approval junkie.” But, like Lou, as a biblical counselor, I must lovingly confront people with their sin on a regular basis. I thought, surely I have had victory over this area of my life! But, as I read this book, I was convicted that pleasing people is still a big struggle for me.
Lou goes on:
You see, the sin of pride, which is at the heart of being a people-pleaser, is an insidious thing. Like a cataract that slowly covers the eye of its victim, pride keeps us from seeing our sins, thus preventing us from properly dealing with them.
While few of us will ever be completely free from the temptation to be a people pleaser, it is important to deal with this area of life. Proverbs 29.25 says, “The fear of man brings a snare, but he who trusts in the Lord will be exalted.”
In the world of pop-psychology people pleasing is often referred to as “codependency,” but as Lou goes on:
The notion of “codependency” has been given lots of attention in recent years.
As Christians, however, we must take care to define and diagnose man’s problems “not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:13 NIV). So what does God’s Word call this not-so-new phenomenon? Actually, several biblical words describe it. In the most general terms, the concept of codependency seems to best fall under the biblical category of “idolatry”-looking to someone (or something) else to do for me those things that only God can do. In terms of a type of person who is characterized by this particular kind of behavior, “people-pleaser” is the more specific diagnosis. The motive of such an individual is identified in John 12:43: he “loved the approval of men rather than [or at least more than] the approval of God.”
Lou provides a “People Pleasing Inventory” that can help us evaluate the extent of people pleasing in our lives. it contains questions about things like our desire to be noticed or get credit for a job well done, our concern for being politically correct as opposed to biblically correct, our motivation for having a good reputation, our willingness to face rejection, how we respond to being publicly corrected, and how we respond to criticism and peer pressure.