Daily Idols :: Throwback Thursday

Daily Idols :: Throwback Thursday

By Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892)

Little children, keep yourselves from idols. —1 John 5.21

Keep yourselves from worshipping yourselves. Alas, how many fall into this gross sin!

There are those who worship themselves by living a life of indolence. They flit from pleasure to pleasure, from show to show, from vanity to vanity, as if this life were only a garden in which butterflies might fly from flower to flower, and not a sphere where serious work was to be done and all-important business for eternity was to be accomplished.

Then there are some people who make idols of their wealth. Getting money seems to be the main purpose of their lives. Now, it is right that a Christian man should be diligent in business, he should not be second to anybody in the diligence with which he attends to the affairs of this life; but it is always a pity when we can be truthfully told, “So-and-so is getting richer every year, but he has got stingier also. He gives less now than he gave when he had only half as much as he now has.”

Some worship the pursuit which they have undertaken. They give their whole soul up to their art, or their particular calling, whatever it may be. In a certain sense, this is a right thing to do; yet we must never forget that the first and great commandment is, “Thou shalt love the Lord your God with all you heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This must always have the first place.

Let me here touch a very tender point. There are some who make idols of their dearest relatives and friends. Some have done this with their children. Make no idol of your child. Love them as much as you please—but always love them, in such a fashion that Christ shall have the first place in your hearts.

The catalogue of idols that we are apt to worship is a very long one. Remember that God has a right to your whole being. There is nothing, and there can be nothing, which ought to be supreme in your affections save your Lord; and if you worship anything, or any ideal, whatever it may be, if you love that more than you love your God, you are an idolater, and you are disobeying the command of the text, “Little children, keep yourselves from idols.”

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 27 (Listen – 2:16)
1 John 5 (Listen – 3:00)

The Angry Watchmaker

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. — 1 John 4.8

In the mid 18th century William Paley formulated what is known as the ‘Watchmaker Argument.’ Though Paley’s analogy was meant to provide a God-centered explanation of scientific creation, “There cannot be design without a designer,” it greatly impacted the trajectory of theology in the western world.

The Watchmaker Analogy described creation as an intricate and complex pocket watch. God crafted the heavens and the earth, humans and culture, beauty and brilliance—he set everything in motion—and now sits, detached from his creation, in heaven. Paley explained:

The watch must have had a maker: there must have existed, at some time and at some place or another, an artificer or artificers who formed it for the purpose which we find it: who comprehended its construction and designed its use.

The equivalence of the divine with a master craftsman—as fastidious as he is devoid of personal interaction with his creation after it is set in motion—guided many of America’s founding fathers, and continues to shape our culture’s de facto understanding of God.

Later American theology, perhaps in an overcorrection, depicts God as intimately involved—but only because his intense anger demands he wage war against humankind. Entire branches of modern theology start and end with God’s anger. Heaven, in this way of thinking, is the place where God fumes, standing ready to lash out on his categorically unruly creation.

Sin, and God’s anger toward it, are essential parts of Christian theology—how can God be good if he doesn’t bring justice? But God’s anger toward evil is neither the foundation of the Christian story, nor the culmination of it.

Heaven is not a distant place where God sits aloof and fuming; Heaven is where God’s character is in full affect. Scripture confesses that God is love—not just that he has love or shows love, but that his very nature is love. In this sense, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us who God is. The famous passage on love could be paraphrased:

God is patient. God is kind. God does not envy or boast. God is not arrogant. God is not rude. God does not insist on his own way. God is not irritable. God is not resentful. God does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. God bears all things for his children. God believes all things about his children. God hopes all things for his children. God endures all things for his children.

God’s love never ends.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 26 (Listen – 2:58)
1 John 4 (Listen – 2:58)

Overreacting to Moralism

And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. — 1 John 3:3

Moralists believe that perfect living makes people worthy. Those overreacting to moralism abdicate their imagination for personal holiness. Words like “should” and “ought” screech across our theological chalkboard as we flee the distortions of moralism. Yet, N.T. Wright remarks, “the abuse of God’s gifts does not invalidate the real use.”

Personal holiness is demanding—requiring all of our heart, soul, mind, and strength—but unlike moralism, it is not dependent solely on our efforts. We are purified when we meet God at the top of the mountain—even so we cannot underestimate the commitment, strength, and focus it takes to climb to these moments of transfiguration. Wright explains:

The way up the mountain stands for us today as a reminder, a rebuke, and an invitation. A reminder that there are levels and depths of spirituality that are open to all of us, but from which we hide ourselves, perhaps in our heart of hearts quite deliberately, from fear of what the transforming presence of the burning God might do if he were truly given free rein in our hearts and lives. A reminder, thus, of the fact that all of life is, so to speak, ‘sacramental.’

Thus, too, a rebuke: that we so often content ourselves with going through the motions of a pattern of Christian discipleship that stays on the surface, that doesn’t get too excited or exciting, when not far away there are levels of reality, of God’s reality, waiting to be discovered, if we will take time and care, if we will seek silence and grace, if we will invoke the Holy Spirit to transform us.

It is the invitation, Wright concludes, that we miss in our overreaction to moralism:

If your vocation, your God-given path, should lead you in the way of pain, your own or someone else’s, that may itself be a sign that you are called to make another journey up the mountain, to glimpse the vision of glory once more and to gather fresh strength for the journey.

Take time out from your busy traveling, then, come up the mountain, and wait patiently for God. Perhaps it’s time to expose yourself again to the possibility that you too might hear a voice, might glimpse glory, might fall on your face in terror and awe, might be grasped afresh by the majesty of Jesus.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 25 (Listen – 1:59)
1 John 3 (Listen – 3:21)

Spiritual Conflicts of Interest

Whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. — 1 John 2:6

“God allows Himself to be found in many ways, and the human tendency to ignore Him or resist Him crosses all cultural lines,” Elisabeth Elliot writes. Reflecting on a life in ministry—as a missionary, teacher, author, and speaker—she asks, “Is there a way of life, a manner of serving the Lord that will deliver us from the temptations and distractions of the world?”

Spiritual conflicts of interest are not removed by vocational or geographical changes. Anyone actively integrating faith into the complexities of life knows every vocation carries its own idols and every place holds its own temptations.

Elliot shares a note from a friend who has dedicated herself to poverty, chastity, and obedience, serving as a nun in a convent:

You know human nature well enough to understand some of the ‘occupational hazards’ that can only too easily compromise the totality of our commitment to the Lord…. Every part of our ‘Rule’ has been chosen to free us for prayer. Centuries of experience have contributed to providing us with an atmosphere most conducive to freeing the mind and heart for prayer, and yet I’m afraid with all that has been given, one can settle for the shell, going through the motions only.

We can compromise the spirit of freedom we have received from the Lord Jesus with the ersatz security and satisfaction of bondage to the letter of our Rule. We can still very easily get caught up in the busyness that makes our heart more a market- place than a house of prayer.

The biblical challenge to “walk in the same way which [Jesus] walked” isn’t aspirational, but relational. If you want to walk as Jesus did you must—by the grace of Christ and the power of the Spirit—stay in constant connection with the Father. In this way, the Fruit of the Spirit becomes the transferable attributes of God—the divine characteristics we embody as we become more like the object of our love.

“Isn’t it amazing that He cares so much that we reflect His image?” Elliot asks. “He wants us. He meets us…. He chose us before we chose Him.” She concludes with the words of her friend:

It is my abiding prayer that the Lord we seek will continue to refine and purify our hearts until our offering is as it should be, and the Sun of Justice shines unobstructed with its healing rays.

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 24 (Listen – 3:11)
1 John 2 (Listen – 4:04)

Perpetual Glee :: Weekend Reading List

“There are expectations that if you achieve some given thing, you’re going to be happy. But it turns out that’s not true.” —  Raj Raghunathan

American culture weaponizes the human desire for happiness. Our founding documents give each citizen the legal right to engage in the “pursuit of happiness.” Our economic environment focuses this pursuit on the accumulation of material items and experiences—wooing all citizens into perpetual consumption, since there is no such thing as a content consumer. Even our dialogue around relationships comes back to one simple question, “are you happy?”

Anything that hinders the pursuit of constant and unconditional happiness—outdated electronics, jobs, marriages— instantly becomes disposable. And though we have more economic prosperity, comfort, connection, and freedom than any other people in the history of the world, we are profoundly unhappy.

In his book If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? marketing professor Raj Raghunathan explores research behind happiness, discontentment, and living a fulfilled life. Joe Pinkster from the The Atlantic summarizes:

There are three things, once one’s basic needs are satisfied, that academic literature points to as the ingredients for happiness: having meaningful social relationships, being good at whatever it is one spends one’s days doing, and having the freedom to make life decisions independently.

But research into happiness has also yielded something a little less obvious: Being better educated, richer, or more accomplished doesn’t do much to predict whether someone will be happy. In fact, it might mean someone is less likely to be satisfied with life.

How we pursue happiness reveals what we truly believe about the world. Sometimes this is obvious: the god of the materialist is his appetite—his liturgy, consumption. Other times we have to look deeper.

A recent article from Quartz proclaims: “The key to happiness at work isn’t money–it’s autonomy.” This is a worldview statement. What will make us happy? More? No, that’s far too bourgeois. We are happy when we can stand on our own two feet—with no authority above and no conflicting responsibilities or relationships alongside. We are happy when we are the god of our own world.

Scripture rebukes this self idolatry—but it doesn’t lead people away from the pursuit of happiness. It’s only through God’s grace that we are free to experience the full depth of worldly happiness without being consumed by it.

What we discover in the security, comfort, and freedom of Christ’s loving embrace is the reality that, in Viktor Frankl’s words, “Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

Weekend Reading List

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 21 (Listen – 2:32)
2 Peter 2 (Listen – 3:52)

Today’s Reading
Isaiah 22 (Listen – 3:53) 2 Peter 3 (Listen – 3:21)
Isaiah 23 (Listen – 2:50) 1 John 1 (Listen – 1:28)


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